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.