The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: October, 2018

Milky Tea


24 October Wednesday

Friday is voting day. We have two things on the ballot. The Referendum on Blasphemy is being offered to the people to decide if it should be struck off the books.  It is basically an out-of-date law on censorship.  There is not a lot of discussion about it either way.  I should think many people will arrive in the voting booth still not sure if they should vote with a Yes or a No. This is the 21st century, so I hope people will vote Yes. Until this referendum came along, Blasphemy was a word rarely used on a daily basis. It sounds both old-fashioned and important at the same time. I have enjoyed hearing it said out loud again and again.  On the same day, we will be voting for the President. There are six candidates running. Michael D. Higgins, the current President, is miles ahead of anyone else. We all speak of him as Michael D.  No one ever bothers with his last name. And we do not expect anyone else to win.

21 October Sunday

Walker hates Tom Cooney. Tom Cooney does not like Walker.  It might have to do with the fact that Tom Cooney always wears a big black hat.  Maybe there was a bad or violent person in Walker’s past who wore a similar hat.  No one knows what Walker experienced in his life before he was rescued. He found a good home with Fiona and PJ, but he does have a tendency to take against certain people. He can be a vicious and scary dog. Mostly he is a gentle and friendly dog. Tonight I saw a sign on the gate into one of Tom Cooney’s fields. It is on the gate exactly opposite Fiona and PJ’s gate.  I assumed it meant that the field had been freshly planted or maybe that poison had been put down. I assumed that the person who made the sign forgot to put an S on the end of DOG when he or she wrote KEEP DOG OUT. Then I realized that the sign is meant just for Walker. Any other dog is welcome.

20 October Saturday

The one woman said to the other woman: “I believe it because I was told it by my cousin who is related to me.”

19 October Friday

A man sat down beside me on the bus. I was trapped between him and the window. I always sit near the window if I can because I like to look out. I sit by the window but I always hope the aisle seat will not be occupied. Today this man sat beside me. He was a large man. I was trapped. There was no where to go anyway except where the bus was taking us but having such a sizeable presence so close made me feel trapped. He flipped out the little tray table on the seat in front of him. The table pressed into his tummy. He placed two enormous cups of tea on the tray. He was lucky that there was a tray table for his two cups. Some of the new buses have little tray tables and some of the old buses have little tray tables. But not all of any of the buses have the little pull down tray tables. I would say maybe one bus in six has them. The man was lucky. I am not sure what he would have done with two cups of tea without a place to put them. The man’s name was Tim. His friend sat a few seats up ahead and he shouted down to the man calling the name Tim and Tim answered so I knew he was Tim. He chatted away to me as he settled in. I could not understand what he had said or what he was saying, but he said it all with a Cork accent. He sipped his tea quietly for a while and then he started to lick his arms. Tim had terrible flaking skin on his forearms. He had dry flaking skin and where the skin was not flaking or where it had already flaked off his arms were raw and red. They looked painful. Tim began to lick his forearms methodically. Up and down. Up and down. It took me a while to realise that before each long careful licking, he filled his mouth with milky tea. Tim was using the tea to sooth his painful arms. In between the licking he stopped and looked across me and out the window at the passing scenery. Sometimes he shouted something up the aisle to his friend. Sometimes he just stared straight ahead while he drank tea from one of his big cups.

18 October Thursday

Simon rushed off to have the National Car Test done this morning.  We had done all of the various things to prepare for the test. The last thing was to have the car washed by the lad at the petrol station. It is important to catch him in between his other job which is delivering things for the motor factors shop next door to the station. It is imperative for us to have to have the car washed underneath with a power hose as the daily driving in and out through the farm means that there is a lot of muck caked up under the wheel wells.  We would fail the test immediately if heavy clumpy chunks of manure and mud fell down on the men while they were testing the car. Town people have it easy.  These are not problems for them. Luckily all of our preparation paid off. The car passed the test. The officials are trying hard to get twenty year old vehicles off the road, but we have been spared for another year.


17 October Wednesday

There is a new system for checked out books in the library. Maybe it is not new. I do not know how long it has been in effect. It can all be done with computers, so it is considered good for the library. No doubt anyone in a branch library all the way up in the north of Tipperary can know when my book is due back. Everyone can know when my book is due back except for me. The book still has its usual lined piece of paper stuck into the front of it. There are three columns printed on the piece of paper. Each column is headed with DATE DUE. DATE DUE. DATE DUE. All of the columns are empty. The paper tells me that I will be charged 5 cents per day if my books are late but that never happens. Even if my books are late, I am not charged. I am told by the librarian that my books are due three weeks after I take them home. Why must I be the one remember when I took the books? Sometimes they stick a sort of receipt that is like the long thing from a cash register into the front of one book. Sometimes they do not include this slip. I cannot decide how a piece of paper which is not physically connected to the book is an improvement on a date rubber- stamped into the waiting column. With this new system, I rarely have any idea when my books are due.


15 October Monday

The morning is full of mist. We cannot see the fields nor the hills. We cannot even see the fence. There is a cold whiteness over everything. The sun is going to break through. There is a bright white glow in the midst of the dull white mist. The combination of the bright sun and the dull mist makes everywhere that is near and visible look creepy. The out of doors is full of spider webs all being caught by the strange light. The hedge looks like it is wearing a hairnet. The rosemary looks like something captured.

14 October Sunday

After all of my despair about our apples ripening too early and falling off the trees and about the apples ripening early but not ripening sufficiently and being all dry and too tasteless to eat, the Bloody Butchers have come good. They are delicious and plentiful and huge and falling off the tree by the bushel. I cannot collect enough of them. The ground underneath the tree is a mass of apples. I have filled boxes and buckets and bags and I have given many apples away. The leaves are falling off the tree and there are still more apples.

13 October Saturday

It rained all night and it has been raining all day. I took off for a walk in a gap between showers. I thought it was a gap but it was not. The rain just went from hard downpour to steady soft drizzle. I started up the mass path in the few minutes when I believed the rain had ceased. About halfway up, a tree limb had fallen from the left and it blocked my way. It was tangled with another big branch that had fallen from the right. I think these were branches that had been cut or broken earlier and last weeks wind just knocked them around. They were too entangled and too heavy for me to move, so I began to push and struggle through them. I broke off bits and pushed my way through. When I was right in the middle of the two branches I realised that I was caught. I could not go forward and I could not go backwards and the brambles had grabbed onto my jacket too and the rain was falling harder. I stood for a while at a funny bent-over angle and wondered what to do. I was sort of resting. I listened to the rain on my jacket. After a little while, I continued with my struggle. Eventually, I broke more branches and dropped to the ground. I crawled out of the mess through the mud and the moss on my hands and knees and continued up the path in the rain.

A Dead Fox.

12 October Friday

Wild lashing rain.  Incessant beating winds all night and all day — so far.  The rain is so heavy and noisy it is difficult to think.  The roof of the big room is being pounded. After such a long dry summer, it is thrilling to hear this sound. It is exciting to hear the rain and to know that we do not have to line up the buckets and throw down the towels.  The leaks are not leaking.  I can still barely believe it.

11 October Thursday

It was first thing I saw as I came out of the undergrowth and reached the tarmacadam road. Dead fox. He must have been hit by a car. There were no obvious injuries. He looked perfect. A small amount of blood was coming from his mouth. He looked like he was resting. Part of me felt that I should move the fox off the road so that he would not be run over and squished by the next car or tractor that came along. Part of me just wanted to go away.

10 October Wednesday

The man did a fast U-turn in front of the church. The turn was too fast to be safe. At the same time as he made the scary turn he was crossing himself: Head.Tummy.Left.Right. and at the same time as he was crossing himself and making the turn he was talking into his phone which was squished between his shoulder and his ear.

8 October Monday

There are fewer raspberries everyday. I can no longer fill a big bowl but I can fill a small bowl. Some days I can only fill a cup. It is best if I pick every other day. For some reason the sorrel is growing like crazy. It is going mad. It is more plentiful that it has been all summer.

7 October Sunday

Oscar walks with me every day now. He walks with me every day that I use the Mass Path. He meets me two thirds of the way around. He meets me just as I pass Sharon’s cottage. The cottage Sharon lived in was The Murder Cottage but since she lived there, she gently made us all adjust to calling it The White Cottage. She painted several small signs to get everyone used to the new name. Sharon has moved away because the cottage was put up for sale and her lease was up. I think she was not offered the option of staying. She was sad to leave. She has gone to live with her mother which is hard for her but good for her mother. Her mother is not at all well and her father died recently. Oscar still spends a lot of time at Sharon’s house. He is waiting for Sharon to come back. He is waiting for her two dogs to come back. One of Sharon’s dogs died suddenly just after she moved but of course Oscar does not know that. He is waiting for both Emma and Shay. He lies down across the road and he waits. Some cars do not know that this is his regular resting and waiting place. He is not quick to move off the road. I worry that he will be killed but so far he does what he wants and all vehicles accommodate him. He is happy to see me on foot and then he is happy to walk up the road and down the boreen with me. Oscar is always happy. He wheezes a lot when he walks now. Maybe he has asthma. Maybe it is not asthma. Maybe it is just age.
Today we were both startled by the bull in Joe’s field. The bull is a different bull than the one that was in the field for most of the summer. That one was brown and white. This one is big and black. This one was rushing back and forth and stopping suddenly with a sort of skid and turning around and then racing off in the opposite direction. He bellowed and he roared and then he ran back again. He criss-crossed the field over and over at a frightening speed. He threw his head down in a charge and then he tossed his head way back. He looked like he could easily jump over the wall if he wanted to and since it was in a downhill direction to where we were, I felt it was a real and frightening possibility. Once he saw Oscar he stopped running abruptly and walked over to the wall. He stood completely still and stared at us.

6 October Saturday

A person stepping off a curb unexpectedly flails about to hold themselves up. Or someone falling in a hole and losing their balance catches themselves after a few wild steps and does not fall. That is what I was thinking as I saw the cow. I was driving down the road and Tomás’s cows were ahead of me. They took up the whole road. I slowed to a roll and watched them. There was nothing else I could do anyway. They had been milked and they were on the way to their next pasture. Suddenly one cow made the kind of wild struggle to stand up that I just tried to describe in human terms. She nearly fell but caught herself before she slammed into the stone wall. I assumed she had caught her hoof in a hole. Then she did it again. And again. The young helper who was driving the quad bike behind the herd to keep the cows moving. Tomás himself was up ahead in his truck. The boy must have phoned him. Within seconds he was there and out of the truck and moving toward the cow. He separated her from the rest of the herd, but it was not easy. She jerked away from him and fell to her knees. She could not get up but then she did get up and fell sort of sideways again. It was dreadful to watch. I had tears pouring down my face. It was awful to see her helplessness and confusion. The car stalled out. I could do nothing but watch. Tomás came near to the car. He looked like he wanted to cry too. He said “Meningitis.” He said it quietly. He said, “Her mind cannot tell her body what to do.” He said, “I must get her to the vet.” He followed while the cow staggered and fell and staggered and fell all the way up the road toward his farm buildings. I watched their slow progress in my rear view mirror while I waited for the rest of the herd to plod along until they got to where they were going. I wept as I watched. I weep again every time I think about it.

5 October Friday

It has been a Two Wake Week. Two people died. They were both elderly and they were both members of large farming families. In both cases, a field was mown and cleared and ropes were put up to define the area. Neighbours were out on the road in High-Visibility vests directing cars through and into the parking field. The entire community turns up on these occasions. The deceased is Reposing At Home. We each walk into the house and we shake hands with all of the members of the immediate family. I am sorry for your loss. Or -I am sorry for your troubles. We repeat these phases again and again. In one house the man was laid out in a coffin. In the other house, the woman was in her bed. They both looked peaceful. People cross themselves or bow their head for a few moments in front of the deceased. The person is at home surrounded by their families and now there are these 5 or 6 hours for the neighbours and friends and relations to come to pay their respects and to provide a special kind of respectful company. There are pots of tea and there are sandwiches and cakes. Visitors can choose to have a cup of tea or they can just continue on out of the house. They can continue with their day. There is a steady flow of people arriving and leaving. We all nod and acknowledge one another. We see people we have not seen for a long time. We also see the people we see every single day. Sometimes the deceased is removed to the church at the end of the wake for a mass and then they spend the night alone in the church. Sometimes they stay in their own house for one last night and then they are taken to the church in the morning in time for the funeral. This journey to the church is often full of small detours as the person who has died is slowly driven over the familiar roads which have been a part of their everyday life and landscape for a long time or forever. Each family makes their choices about these beautiful and quiet rituals.

4 October Thursday

The woman at the counter was grumbling. She said, “Sure, we still have plenty of tourists about. The coaches arrive several times a day to drop them off to see the castle. The trouble is that at this time of year, they are all the ones on the budget tours. It’s always the same with them. They say ‘We’ll have one scone and we’ll share a cup of coffee.’ And that is when you realise there are three of them doing the sharing.”
She kept grumbling and repeating to herself: “It is not my idea of a holiday, I can tell you that.”

3 October Wednesday

I was interested in the yellow and grey paint job. I took a photograph just to think about the colours. Since I have had the photograph to look at I am more interested in the two doors side by side. It is a tiny house. I have a lot of questions about the doors. I have no answers.

Squaring A Pusher

2 October Tuesday

While working to appeal the Post Office closure, I was told about one man who lives alone way up the mountain. He buys one stamp each week when he comes down to the village to get his messages. He buys a single stamp and he posts a card to himself. I do not know if it is a post card or a folded card in an envelope. I do not know what he writes on the card. Maybe he does not write anything on it. The post man delivers the card to the man’s house the next day or the day after that. This means that at least one day a week the man has someone call to his house which means that he is not always alone. The postman of course would notice if he is not there to receive his post. Hopefully the postmistress too will have noticed if he has not arrived to buy his weekly stamp.

30 September Sunday

There were five small pheasants on the lawn this morning. I did not see the mother. They stayed for a long time rushing back and forth in a group not really going anywhere. There are raspberries still to pick, but not so many now. It is best to pick in late afternoon. I can collect enough to provide two good bowls full for breakfast. The days are warm again. The raspberries ripen as the day heats up. The figs are long gone. Blackberries are not gone but they are almost gone. Apples are everywhere but they are not the best apples ever. The drought has made for disappointing dry apples. We have walked up through the Mass Path several times. The Mass Path has been impassable all summer. Now the brambles and things are dying back. We can trample on some of the stuff still in the way.  Waving a heavy stick is helpful too. It is a completely new place to walk after so many months. The best blackberries are up at the top by Johnnie’s orchard. Crab apples are all over one section of the path and they make for deadly walking. This happens every year and it is always treacherous.  No amount of experience can make walking on the hard little apples easier. It is like walking on ball bearings.

27 September Thursday

Jim invited me to do a reading for a local group of retired business people. I was happy to oblige. Today was the day. I went to Raheen House at 10.30 in the morning. The group gathered and drank coffee and ate biscuits and chatted with one another for about half an hour. I was introduced to several of the members. I drank coffee and chatted too. There were about eighteen men and two women there. All of the men wore clean pullover sweaters over freshly ironed shirt collars. One man wore a tie and a jacket. I was glad I had worn my blue dress. After the coffee time, I did my reading. There were lots of questions and comments afterwords. Jim told me afterwards that usually no one says a word except thank you when the speaker is finished. People were eager to tell me expressions that I might not have heard yet. They were also pleased to hear these expressions used again themselves. One man said that his uncle had taken him to Tipperary town and to Limerick Junction when he was thirteen. This was a far distance and a big outing for him. The journey was memorable. He saw a young man talking to a pretty girl on the pavement in Tipp Town. His uncle explained that the man was Squaring a Pusher.  That meant that he was courting the girl. A Pusher was an term from the dance halls. It was only used about females.

26 September Wednesday

The letter of appeal concerning the closure of the Newcastle Post Office has been completed and sent to the Independent Reviewer at An Post. All of the petitions have been collected and sent along with the letter. We were thrilled that more than eight hundred people have signed the petition. Letters from various small businesses and civic organisations have been written and included as support materials. Our committee will hear something back in 28 days. The Post Office is scheduled to be closed at the end of December. We did not have very much time to appeal nor to research and publicise our plight. We only had a few weeks. If we were to begin now we would all know so much better how to do this. I hope we have done enough.


24 September Monday

The holes in the road in front of O’Dwyer’s farm have been filled in and repaired by the council. I have been swerving around them for several weeks now. We have all been swerving around them. There are different movements for when I am driving down the road and for when I am driving up the road. It has been terrible to forget sometimes and to drive right through them as the holes were deep. Slamming down into them is not good for the tyres nor for the axle. Seamus told me he had filled the holes up with gravel twice but of course that only worked until the next heavy rain. Then all the gravel got washed out. We spoke about these holes before they got repaired. Now that the job has been done we are still talking about them. Not having to swerve around the holes is as big a shock as falling into them by accident.


23 September Sunday

Everything has been chaotic. The bathroom has been torn apart. The bathroom has been unusable. The bathroom has been remade and put back together again. The kitchen has been full of tools and materials. The kitchen has also been unusable. Nothing could be piled nor left outside the door because the weather was so bad. The entire house has been uninhabitable. In addition to the manure and rain and the wind, it has been unseasonably cold, but the door has been wide open all day every day. I have had to sleep at Joan’s house but I have returned each day to witness the progress and to run errands for Peter while he worked. And to shovel manure. Simon left the country. He left me with all of this mess. It was clever of him to leave. When all of this is done it will be the end of the two years of leaking and indoor puddles and black-stained walls and repaired ceilings and all of it. Repairing the roof was just one thing. The World’s Largest Spice Rack has been screwed back onto the freshly painted wall.  I hope this will be the last thing. I have had a wretched time.

20 September Thursday

The terrible winds continue. The winds are constant and noisy. Today rain is lashing down. As the wind changes direction, the rain changes direction. It is impossible not to get wet. It is not easy to keep a hat on. Cows broke in from somewhere. Or cows broke out from somewhere. They must have come and gone in the night. They were all over the yard and all over the car parking area. It was not possible to step out of the car without stepping in a dollop of manure. Manure was everywhere. As soon as it was stepped in, it was tracked around everywhere else. I got a shovel and tried to move it out of the way of the workmen’s boots in order to keep it out of the house. There is enough mess and dust in the house. Shoveling heavy clumps of manure and gravel in the bucketing rain was difficult. I could only toss my shovel loads onto the side of the gravel parking place. If I threw it into the grass the gravel would play havoc later with the lawnmower blades. It was lucky for me that the cows that invaded were young. They must have been young. The cow flaps were not big. There were a lot of them but they were not huge ones and the holes in the grass from the hooves were not too big either. The cows knocked down garden chairs and made a general mess but then they went away. I do not know whether they went up the boreen or up the Mass Path. I do not even know whose cattle they are. I did not even ask. I do not care. I am just glad that they went away.

18 September Tuesday

The left rear tyre had been losing air. I filled it. It was fine for a few days or for half a day. Then it went squishy again so I filled it again and then it was fine for three days. Then I filled it and it went squishy in an hour. This went on for a week or so. I went down to Anthony yesterday to get it checked. He promised to look at it while I went for a walk.  I only went as far as the Holy Well. The wind was strong and wild. I struggled to stay upright in the open gaps between trees. The sheep and the cows were all pressed tight against bushes and along the edges of fields. Anthony’s son found a screw embedded in the tyre. The screw was causing a slow leak. He removed it and patched the hole. Hopefully this patch will last for a while. As I left the village a man in a high visibility vest stopped me and pointed to a tree that was cracking and making terrible noises. He said it was going to come down with the wind. He said it could come down at any minute. He said I could make a run for it.  I could race along hoping that it did not fall while I am underneath it or I could drive away and around one very long circuitous route or another. I asked him what I should do. I asked him what he would do. He said he would Put The Boot In and Go For It. He said that even if he got hit by the tree it would be worth it for the Craic. I was not sure I agreed with his logic. I was not interested to be killed in my car by a falling tree just for an adventure. But I Put the Boot in and rushed past the tree. I immediately felt smug to have escaped unscathed. It was probably stupid. Today I see that the tree has indeed fallen down. It has already been cut up and cleared from the road. The wind is up all over the country. Things are falling and breaking and blowing everywhere. There is damage and there are huge numbers of people without electricity. I think if it were today I would not feel so brave about driving under the breaking tree but yesterday it felt like an exciting option.

17 September Monday

Kitty wiggled her bottom. She moved the chair cushion. She pushed the cushion around again and again to make herself comfortable. She looked over at me watching her. She is a small woman. She reminded me of a dog or a cat getting herself settled. She said, “I am fond of myself.” This is what people say as they try to get settled on a chair.


15 September Saturday

I am not much of a fan of ironing. Neither is Simon. We do not own an ironing board. My version of ironing is to hang out the washing on a windy day. Or to leave it hanging for an extra day or two until a good breeze comes along. When I do need to iron something, I put a towel down on the table. It is never a very satisfactory way to work because when I iron the one side of a garment I am inevitably ironing creases into the other side. Simon has taken to having his shirts washed and ironed by a lady in Cahir. She is Lithuanian and her name is Regina. Regina and her daughters do a lovely job. The daughters insist on carrying the ironed shirts out to the car and laying them down gently and carefully in the back. We know that the woman’s name is Regina but she never remembers our names. The finished ironing is labelled with a handwritten piece of paper: ENGLISH MAN.