The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: January, 2019

A Rib of Hair.

21 January Monday

George Mason died in October. It was sudden and shocking. He was a young man. He was not yet fifty. I did not really know him but he generously allowed us to walk the track through his fields. When we saw him in the distance we waved to him in his tractor and he waved back. The rare time we spoke with him it was about the weather. If his herd was not grazing in the lower meadow we walked right through it to the special place where the Nire River runs into the Suir. George Mason raised cattle for beef. His brother is a dairy farmer. The brother has taken over the fields for planting and harvesting since George’s untimely death. If we did not already know that there was someone else working the land we would know it anyway by the completely new way that the round bales are stacked in the shed.

20 January Sunday

There are things to do After Dark and things to do Before Dark. At this time of year the days are short. The days are getting longer but they are still short. I go for walks and I hang the washing in the light. I prefer to empty the compost in the light but I can do it in the dark if I use a head torch. The light fixture in the tool shed is broken so getting things out of the freezer is best done before dark. I make phone calls and I write emails and letters when daylight is gone and darkness has fallen. Sometimes I say it aloud to people. I say that I will ring them After Dark. They do not register what and why I am saying this. I try to divide the activities of my day by Before Dark and After Dark. This is only an issue in the winter. There is no reason to even consider it during the rest of the year.

 


19 January Saturday

For at least a week, the air has been full of the stench of slurry. The smell is everywhere. All of the farmers are at it. Sometimes it is so bad that it makes my eyes sting and my throat burn. Lately it has not been that bad. I think the cold keeps the smell down. Joe has a lot of fields on the other side of the road from his farm and his slurry pit. For the last four days he has had a long heavy hose connected to his spreader as it moves over and back on the far fields. The big hose crosses the tar road. When the slurry is pumping through it there are little ramps to make it safe to drive over the hose. The hose is under a lot of pressure. When the ramps are in place there is Joe or a young lad waiting nearby to tell any driver to travel carefully over the ramps. The boy who was there today told me that the hose is probably 850 metres long. Maybe he was only guessing at the length. I love the ramps. I love aiming the car in just the right way so that all four wheels bounce up and over.

18 January Friday

The old sand-cast aluminum letters do not always make for even letter spacing.

17 January Thursday

The Irish language TV people -TG4 – were in the village this morning. A man and a woman filmed and took photographs to do a report on the fact that our Post Office has been saved. Or spared. Our committee sat around a table having a fake meeting for them and we posted some fake parcels. Any real customers who came into the shop rushed out again saying they did not want to be on TV. Treasa has been the substitute post mistress for about 18 months. She is fluent in Irish, so she did the interview. She was all dressed up and wearing bright red trousers which unfortunately will probably not be seen as the camera only framed her head and her shoulders. Catherine was inside the Post Office booth being interviewed through her window. The TG4 woman held up a big piece of paper with Catherine’s answers in Irish written on it. She had written them down last night because she was terrified she would forget them or pronounce them poorly. The shop was full of chatter and excitement. I learned that the Irish word for this kind of chat is COONSHEE.  No doubt there is a proper way to spell it and this is not it. After it was over, I walked the three miles home in bright sun and cold wind. I was smiling the whole way.

 


16 January Wednesday

String storage is a common sight. When a farmer moves cows from field to field or out of one field and down a road and into another field, he stretches a length of string or plastic tape across from a gate post or tree or bush to another post or tree or bush. The thin white line of string is enough to let the cows know that they cannot go that way. Any cow that wanted to could barge right through such an insubstantial bit of droopy string, but somehow they rarely do. I am not sure if this is because some sorts of string have a filament wire and an electric current through them. Wire, which probably looks like string to a cow, can also be electrified. So in the mind of a cow the line drawn in their path might or might not have a little charge in it, so it is best to be avoided. The strings used for road crossings are usually left looped in place right where they will be needed again. They are carefully hung up in readiness for their next job.

15 January Tuesday

Helen said, “He hasn’t a RIB of hair!” I knew that the man was bald but I could not see the word Rib having any connection to anything else in the sentence. She told me that the word Rib came from the Irish.  Rib means a Strand. She said Rib was so completely incorporated into speech that few people even knew they were using an Irish word in the middle of an English sentence. She said that no one around here would ever say Strand. They would say Rib and everyone, except for me, would know what was meant.

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One. At. A.Time

 

14 January Monday

I was trying to leave the grade school in Grange but I could not open the door. Then I saw that there was a buzzer high up to press in order to release the door. I buzzed and pushed just as the door was pulled hard from the outside. The woman on the other side and I both made startled shrieks of surprise and then we burst out laughing. She laughed so hard that she fell to her knees. In between laughing gasps, she said, “Well, we are awake NOW!”

13 January Sunday

An overweight yellow Labrador comes across the fields and visits every morning. He arrives at around 9.30 and wanders around and drinks water and sniffs in a lot of places. He is old but he is able and he rushes around doing his investigations in a friendly way. I am always happy to see him and he seems happy to see me. When he decides his visit is finished he heads off over the fields. I do not know his name. I am not certain where he lives. He might be called Zack and he might belong to the Slatterys on the Knocklofty road at Clonacoady, but I might be wrong. He might have a different name and belong to someone else altogether.

 

12 January Saturday

The Farmer’s Market was sort of back in action today. There were only about half of the usual stalls there. Keith had no vegetables at all on his table. He had very little to sell. He had apples and eggs and he had buckets full of freakishly long stemmed daffodils. The stems were two feet long. These were not daffodils that had just poked their heads a tiny bit above ground because of the too the mild weather. Daffodils in January is not right, but they looked wonderful.  We came home with some just to make ourselves feel more cheerful on such a gloomy grey day.

 

11 January Friday

Doing extra transactions at the Post Office has become a challenge. I have been busily posting parcels and depositing money into my Post Office account book. On Wednesday, I also paid our house insurance there. I was proud to tell Rosie that I had made Seven Transactions in three days. I was sort of bragging. She was not overly impressed. She told me that a woman from Greenmount had just been in.  She had done Eleven Transactions in the same number of days. I felt both deflated and envious. It is perhaps good that we begin to feel competitive. That means we will all be using the post office more and more. By today I was happy to have done Eleven Transactions. I wondered how many the woman from Greenmount had done. Mairead reported that she had just come from the Post Office and she had done Five Transactions in one visit. She paid two bills and bought Three Stamps. One. At. A.Time.

10 January Thursday

Dr Bernie told me that I need some glasses, just for The Driving. I was stunned. I thought my repaired eyes would need no help for years and years. She said that this is a Normal Post-Cataract Kind of A Thing. She said that once the spectacles are made up, I can leave them in the car and never wear them anywhere else. She said I would not even need them anywhere else. She said it is not imperative at all but by summer I will surely be wishing I had them. She wants to give me the kind of lenses that become sunglasses when it is bright outside. She suggested that I look around at home for some old glasses frames. She said, “Sure, there is no reason to pay money for frames when you already have some old ones that will work perfectly well.”

 

9 January Wednesday

Em and me has been available for sale at the shop in the village for a few months now. As the copies dwindled to just one, I noticed that some days the final copy would be there among the farm magazines and children’s comics and some days it would be gone. The next day it would reappear.  People are delighted to tell me that they have read the book. More people have read it than have bought it. It seems the books on the shelf are not just for buying and browsing but they are for borrowing.

This lovely review from Maurice Scully:

This is a book centred on the relationship of the author & her dog. It is composed from blogs during her dog’s life & so has an episodic & almost poetically repetitive form. A pet’s life is of course an accelerated & condensed version of a human life, of all animal life & its phases, & so tracks the arc from exuberance of youth to the pathos of old age.  Such a theme can lend itself to sentimentality, but Van Horn is the opposite of a sentimental writer: she writes of what-is with clarity & intelligence & lets the given speak for her beloved animal, without enlargement, just as her pet’s acuity is a given of nature, beyond adumbration.
Okay then if you want a cosy, warm, lovey-dovey pet book, this is not it. If on the other hand you want a penetrating portrait of a pet & its ‘mistress’ this is for you.
Em & Me is an unfussy, tasteful production, as one takes for granted from Coracle Press, with good paper, good margins, clear font, pleasantly pocket-sized dimensions, attractive matt wrap-round cover & a good all-over feel to it in the hand.
There are four protagonists in Em & Me: the dog, its owner, the countryside, & the owner’s human partner, Simon, this latter a shadowy but significant presence. Simon’s making a gravestone for the dog at the end & speaking to the dog’s spirit at her graveside could be mawkish, but it isn’t. Van Horn’s gift for presenting human feeling, human affection, love & sadness, without sentimentality is exceptional.
Em & Me is about attachment ultimately: to a pet, to a locale, to art, to a life lived with alertness. An exceptional book. Coming from an exceptionally gifted partnership, whose lifelong project is Coracle Press: Erica Van Horn & Simon Cutts. Em & Me is forever, not just for Xmas.

Discoloured Water

7 January Monday

Yesterday we walked the New Walk in glorious sunshine. I am already calling this walk The KnockPerry. The walk has found its name. Rachel and Peter joined us. A crowd of sheep were rushing from one field down the road to another field. They had a man and a dog and a girl on a bicycle behind them. When they saw us in their path they tried to look busy and to pretend they were turning but there was a stone wall in their way. There was no where to go.

6 January Epiphany.

Today is Little Christmas. Little Christmas is short for Women’s Little Christmas—Nollaig na mBan. This is the day when all of the holiday decorations come down and get stored away. Holiday cards get filed or recycled, and the tree is removed. On Little Christmas, the tradition is that women are supposed to be free from All Household Duties. Probably this release is only after they have finished putting all of the decorating stuff away. Husbands and partners are left to take care of children and cleaning and pets and preparation for back to school and whatever else needs doing. The women go out with their friends in the evening and have dinner with other women. In Cork city, I understand that the restaurants are packed full of women and that there is rarely a man in sight.
Officially, Christmas is over. Tomorrow the world will go back to normal. Children and teachers will return to school. The post office will return to its usual hours and deliveries. It will be almost as if the last two weeks never happened. Except that everyone will continue to say Happy New Year to one another again and again and again until we are all certain that we have not missed anyone. This will go on for at least one more week. Maybe two.

5 January Saturday

Living Locally No.30

Letterpress card 2015

4 January Friday

Another mild day. I was walking Around alone. I did not see one car nor one person the entire way. When I entered the boreen and reached the top of the first slope, I heard footsteps and heavy breathing. Oscar came staggering up behind me. I could not believe my eyes nor my ears. He was wheezing and gasping like an old tractor, as he has in recent months. The back of him is still not functioning very well but the front of him was delighted to be on the way to anywhere. As happy as I was to see him, I knew he should not be out on his own. Just a few days ago he was almost dead. He was already a kilometre from home when he caught up with me.  I had no idea if he would have the strength to walk back. I walked him home slowly. I wondered if I should have rung June to come to fetch him. She was shocked to learn that he had gone so far. As we stood talking, Oscar lifted his leg for a pee and he fell over. His back legs have lost all their power but already he is a changed dog from a few days ago.

3 January Thursday

Catherine McCarra, the postmistress, has taken back her resignation. In doing so she gave up the financial package which was on offer. AnPost made this back-handedly generous one-time offer to try to close 400 post offices. Since Catherine decided not to take the package and not to retire at the end of this month, our post office can stay open. Our committee tried all kinds of things but no half-way solution would do. As a last-ditch attempt, and at great personal sacrifice, Catherine wrote and rescinded her resignation, and forfeited the money, even though she is not a well woman. If she collapses tomorrow, our post office may well be closed down immediately. We called a general meeting to announce the turn around and because our only hope now is to increase the transactions which take place at the counter. I was fearful that only 10 people might turn up, but the Community Hall was packed. Everyone seems eager to work to double our transactions in the next six months. One suggestion was that someone with a post office savings book could put 2 euro into their account one day and then they could take it out again the next day. This would count as two transactions. It might drive Rosie, behind the counter, crazy. But at least she would have a job. Unfortunately we do not seem to have a number of how many transactions are currently being done, so it is hard to know how many we will need to double the number.

2 January 2019 Wednesday

The Christmas Nativity Scene that gets set up every year is called The Crib. People go to view The Crib. They ask if you have seen The Crib. They comment on how well The Crib is looking. They mourn the occasional theft or random destruction of The Crib by Bad Lads. It took some years before I understood what was being discussed.
When our currency here was Pounds and Pence, a Pound was always called a Quid. We have been using the Euro since 2002, but people still speak of something costing A Quid. Or of being paid 10 Quid. Quid is still the slang for money even though the actual currency has changed.

I find the Christmas period complicated because the talk of Quids and Cribs gets confusing. Now that January has begun there will still be Quids but no more Cribs.

31 December Monday

At the end of my walk I detoured to visit Oscar. He is weak and wobbly. He is really really weak and really really wobbly, and his eyes are glazed over, but he is alive. He is on steroids and some other tablets. Mark and June are trying to get him to eat regularly and often. They are trying to get him to take water. June said he has never had the habit to drink fresh water from a bowl. He has preferred to drink from puddles. Now they are trying to discolour the water in his bowl to convince him to drink it. The vet said that if he does not eat and drink to build up his strength he will not recover from his stroke. I was longing to ask what they are using to discolour his water.