The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: December, 2018

Woodworm

28 December Friday

June and Mark came down the boreen. They were looking for Oscar. He has not been seen since Stephen’s Day. June was in tears. She was hoping we had seen him. She was hoping anyone had seen him. He has been gone for two days. They have been walking and driving around always looking on the verges and in the dikes in case he might have been hit by a car. He might be lying somewhere hurt or he might be dead. We wished we could say something positive. The thing that we did not say and that they did not say is that there is always a particular worry when an elderly dog disappears. There are rough people around and about who steal old dogs. They prey upon dogs who have never known anything but kindness. These people run dog fights which are illegal. They organise the dog fights in out of the way locations. Spectators bet on the dogs. The dogs fight to the death. To get the fighting dogs in the mood and to give them a taste of blood their owners provide them with an old dog. The old dog will be attacked and killed by the fighters to encourage viciousness and a taste for blood. I hate to think about this. When any dog, especially an elderly dog, goes missing, people think about this possibility, but it is rarely discussed out loud. We all hate to think of such a cruel nightmare scenario, but we know that it does happen.

Before darkness fell, Oscar was found staggering across a field. His back legs kept giving out. It took him a very long time to get home from wherever he had been. We will never know where he was for two whole days. June and Mark took him to the vet who said he had had a stroke. We are all relieved to know that Oscar is back at home. Now we must wait patiently to see how he recovers. The vet said that it might take weeks.

 

26 December Stephen’s Day

We walked The New Walk again today. The sun was out for part of the time. I am learning the names of the places we pass through. We begin just off the New Line at Barnacullia, and then we turn into Fitz’s Boreen. I have already heard two names for this same boreen. One is Fitz’s Boreen as Jim Fitzpatrick, or Fitzgerald?, has a farm just nearby. The boreen used to be called Paul’s Boreen because of Tommie Paul Hally who lived nearby. Since there was another Tommie Hally in the area, Tommie Paul was called Tommie Paul rather than just plain Tommie and the boreen got shortened to Paul’s Boreen to differentiate it from the other boreen called Hally’s Boreen further down the New Line. I am not yet certain which name is the correct name but I love this green road. Back on the climbing road we are at Knockperry, and then we circle Garryduff and come back down the New Line. No doubt there are a few more place names in between that we do not know yet.

25 December Tuesday Christmas

I now have a little lichen collection up the boreen. Each time I pass I add a few more pieces of lichen or else I add a stick that has some lichen attached to it. The lichen is falling off branches because of the wind or because the birds scrape it off with their feet. I have only been depositing my pieces of lichens there for a few times now but already I think of it as a kind of toll. It is a duty. I must add to the little place each time I walk up the mass path. I think about this little spot as I lie in bed at night. I now want to walk that way more often just so that I can make the little pile into a bigger pile.

24 December. Monday. Christmas Eve

It is too warm. The rain has finally stopped but temperatures are much higher than they should be at this time of year. The days are mild and the nights are mild. There are buds on my black currant bushes. The Lenten Rose is blooming. Daffodils are pushing up out of the soil. Some are as much as two inches in the green. Today I saw snowdrops in bloom beside Em’s stone. There are loads more snowdrops pushing up through the grass everywhere. This is not right.

22 December Saturday

We have a new walk. I took Simon and Breda on it today. I was nervous because I was hoping it was as wonderful a walk for them as it had been for me a few days ago. I was hoping I had not exaggerated it too much, first in my mind and then in the re-telling of it. I had been describing it again and again. I urged them both to come for this walk with me as soon as possible. So they did. They loved it. I loved it again. It was just as wonderful as I had found it the first time. There is a lot of climbing which affords fine views. I do not know what to call this walk. For the moment, it is The New Walk.

The Long Field is the name for one walk. We need names to explain where we are going or where we will meet. We have The Abbey Walk. The Des Dillon. The Mattie Loop. The Gate to Gate. The Virgil. The Poets Walk. The Waterfall Walk. The Boulders. The Cottage Loop. The Mass Rock. The Lumpy Fields. The Mass Path. Around. The Reg and Dedge. Neddins. The Perimeter. Murphy’s Lane. The Duck Pond. The Forestry.

These are not the old names of the meadows or the lands we are walking through. These are our names given so we know which walk we are going on or thinking of going on. It also suggests time. The Gate to Gate is a very short walk through the fields that are part of the Abbey Walk. This walk is especially useful right before sunset. It is a tidy little walk mostly for stretching one’s legs or for letting dogs go for a rush about.

It is usually Breda and I who give names to our walking places. We share this need to identify. Other people who we walk with quickly use the names too. The names become the walks. Every walk finds the name that is right for it. Proper local names for fields and places are important but sometimes they are difficult to learn. Our names become the walking route name which most likely incorporates several fields. If each field has a name we cannot list all the names when we want to walk there. The Lumpy Fields, as a walk, goes through nine or eleven fields. Each field has a name for the farmer who owns it, but to us the fields join to become a single walk, unless one field has cows in in it and then we detour around that one. We only need one shorthand name to identify a walk. We need to pick one name that sums it up. The name for The New Walk will find itself. It will not be The New Walk forever. It will find its name and then there will be another walk that is The New Walk.

21 December Friday Solstice

The woman was in front of me in the shop. She was grumbling about the many pre-Christmas jobs and pressures. She was grumbling about getting the car washed and the windows washed and the gravestones washed and about cleaning the entire house. She said: “I also do not like Christmas. I dislike everything about it, except the cookies.”

20 December Thursday

I have been speaking on the telephone with Martina at the council. We have had the same conversations several times in recent months. She has promised to have someone come and look at the boreen. The holes are bad. The holes are very bad and they are getting worse. Derek the postman is not complaining about the holes, but he is commenting on the holes. Complaining will be the next thing after the comments. We know that the heavy rains have ripped out the tar and gravel and dirt. The patches have been patched and then they have been patched again. Everything has been washed away with the rain. Today Martina told me that Walter, who is in charge of the road repair crew, will come by to take a look in the next three days. Tomorrow is Friday. Walter might come on Friday. He will not come on Saturday nor will he come on Sunday. He will not come on Christmas Eve nor will he come on Christmas Day. And he will not come on Stephen’s Day. I shall ring Martina again in the New Year and we can start again with the promises.

 

18 December Tuesday

The road has gouges all along one side. Not all roads have these gouges but the very narrow tar lanes have them. They have been dug out by a digger. About every 6 metres. I am not sure what to call them. Gashes. Channels. Gouges. Sluices. Their function is to direct excess rain water to rush off the road and into the ditch. I am not sure who has dug these gashes. It might be the council or it might just be a neighbour with a tractor. Whoever has done it with the digger has ripped out a fair amount of tarmacadam at the same time as they made each gash. This happens every year. It contributes to the narrowing of the road.

 

17 December Monday

There is woodworm in the type drawers. The type is kept out in the little print shed in a tall unit with shallow drawers. The drawers are divided up as California Job Cases. Each drawer holds a specific type in a particular size. Someone who knows how to set type can reach across a drawer and find a letter without looking. The letters are always in the exact same position in every drawer. If one does not know the lay-out of a California case, finding each letter is a long and laborious job. Actually if one does not know the lay-out of the 89 compartments, each compartment a place for an upper-case or a lower-case letter or an element of punctuation, it is impossible to set type for letterpress printing. Now we have woodworm in the drawers. We can see the little piles of wood dust that they leave behind as they burrow. If we do not do something the drawers will begin to fall to bits and one alphabet will be mixed in with the alphabet just below it. Sorting them out will be impossible. Or if not impossible it will be such hard work that I doubt we will ever do it.

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Between Him and His Sleep.

 

16 December Sunday

Anthony has brought out his Christmas Tree made of tyres. This is the third year for this tree. He keeps it on a pallet out in his yard. It is there all year to be seen at any time if anyone walks out back where all the machinery and used tyres are kept. At this time of year, he brings the pallet with the tree on it out near the road with a small forklift and he places it near to the petrol pumps. He adds a few bits of fresh greenery. Now we know it is Christmas.

15 December Saturday

About four o maybe five years ago—the last time I was in hospital, the surgeon came to collect me when they were ready for me. I was wearing my hospital gown, with little paper elasticized slippers and a little paper hat. The hat was like a shower cap. The surgeon and I walked down to the operating theatre together. We chatted about this and that as we walked. This time I was in the bed and ready to go when a man came to collect me. He was not the surgeon. He was a Porter. I did not have to walk to the operating theatre. The Porter pushed me and my bed though the maze of corridors. Before we left, he raised the bed so that I was sitting upright. I thought he was doing that so that I could see where we were going. He said, “I knew you would want to look around. Well anyone would, wouldn’t they? And no doubt you will see someone you know along the way.”

12 December Wednesday

Michael reported that he had just seen Robert with a chain saw. He was speaking down from high up in his tractor to Geraldine who was standing on the ground. They were discussing a tree that was hanging down over the road in an unnatural and dangerous way. The tree looked ready to tumble. The ground is so wet and so very sodden after all the weeks of rain. Some roots cannot hold on to the earth anymore. If the tree tumbles in the upcoming promised gusts of wild wind, it will block the farm gate and the road and it will take an electricity cable down with it. Robert is Geraldine’s partner. She knew exactly which tree was being discussed.
She said, “That tree is getting between him and his sleep.”

11 December Tuesday

The morning started grey and gloomy. The thick cloud cover has not lifted all day. It is impossible to know what time it is by observing the light. I kept thinking the sun might break through but it never happened. It is unseasonably mild. When it is not raining it is mild. Even when it is raining it is mild. These warm temperatures are not normal. There are mosquitoes and all sorts of small bugs that should not be flying around in December. Today I found a bee in a tea towel. I shook the towel out the door and the bee plopped to the ground. It walked away. It did not fly. It walked. There are cows in the fields. That is a good thing for the cows and for the farmers. It is good that the cows can be out eating grass when the fodder shortage still has its grip on things. It is a good thing but it is not a normal thing for this time of year.

10 December Monday

Our Post Office is doomed. It will be closed at the end of January. All of the efforts of our committee and our community have come to nothing. The population in the village is not close enough to the 500 mark. We needed 500 people within a one kilometre radius. People in the countryside live in the countryside. We do not live all crunched together in the village even though we consider this village our village. The fact that there are plenty more people in the five and ten kilometre radius does not count. Or it does count, but it counts against us.

9 December Sunday

There is rain and more rain. It is getting to that point where it is no longer interesting to speak of it. Everyone is tired of talking about the rain. The path is slippery and rocks are covered with moss. The fields are squelching. Walking anywhere is a wet event. There are lakes and ponds and rivers where there are usually fields.  Every river and every stream is overflowing. It is not easy to remember where the river used to end and where the fields begin.

 


8 December Saturday

We went to the Farmers Market. There were eleven stalls today. There is a new one preparing and selling Fish & Chips or Sausage & Chips. Since we had just had our porridge at the cafe, we did not partake but we received a little coupon to give us a special price in case we changed our minds. I think everyone gets this same special price. It makes everyone feel special, so why not? A few years ago there was a couple cooking and selling Boerewors, a South African sausage. Those were a bit hefty and rich to be eating in the morning, but many people seemed to like them. Some people made a special trip to the Market just to eat one of these sausages. The smell took over the whole area. I am not sure how long ago those people stopped coming to the market. I cannot remember when I last saw them. The geese came out of the river and up onto the Castle car park because people were throwing them chips. They might have come out of the river because it is so swollen and high. There is so much water that it is easy for the geese to just walk straight out onto the car park without even climbing up the bankings.

 

7 December Friday

The supermarket seemed full of elderly people this morning. It made moving around the narrow aisles a little awkward. One woman came up and grabbed my arm. She said, “I am Loving Your Hat!” She repeated this several times in a loud voice. Then she said it to another shopper who was passing. She said, “I am Loving Her Hat!” She said it two or three times. The other woman just smiled and walked on. I do not think she heard a thing.

6 December Thursday

At this time of year, there is a man who parks his lorry in various locations in order to sell firewood. Usually he is in Clonmel. Sometimes he comes to the market in Cahir on a Saturday but he always parks well away from the actual market. He parks at the far side of the car park so that he does not have to pay for a place in the market. His intention is to get the customers from the market but without putting out any money. He has a young boy working with him. The boy stays up on the truck and hands bags down to the man. Bags of kindling cost 1.50 each. Five euro buys four bags. One day I bought four bags. The man had the boy hand the bags down to him and then he tossed them onto his shoulder and he asked me where my car was. We walked together to my car with him chatting and asking questions all the while. He loaded the bags into the back of the car, complimented me on my accent and went back to his truck. It was not until I got home that I noticed how small the bags were. The bags on display and the bags which the boy handed to the man were not the same sized bag. It was a clever trick. I wonder how many customers go back for a second purchase.

4 December Tuesday

There was a sparrow swooping and flying around in the food court at Dublin airport. Everyone was delighted to see it. One table had been set aside with some crumbs and a bowl of water for the bird. The name of the cafe was Warbler + Wren.