The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: August, 2019

Patients Walking

27 August Tuesday

The clock in the room of the dental hygienist remains crammed behind the radiator. It has been in this position for twelve years. A few years ago the room was painted. At some time after the paint was dry, the clock was replaced in the same position behind the radiator. Each time I arrive for a cleaning, I feel I should have brought a nail and a hammer.  I could hang the clock on the wall.  I only remember this plan when I am already reclining on the chair. The door into the room has a rectangle cut into it. Or out of it. This hole has also been there for a long time. The hygienist herself wishes that a window would be installed in the cut-out hole. She wishes the hole would be finished off in a tidy fashion.  My theory is that the hole remains a hole because it allows some air into an otherwise airless room.

26 August Monday

Wild damsons are ripening in the boreen but they are too high to reach.  I do not think even a ladder can get me up high enough to pick them.  Wild honeysuckle and blackberries are everywhere in the ditches. My raspberries are ripening by the minute.  I am already picking them twice a day just to keep up with the quantity. Today was the first day that a morning mist was down over everything. I could not see over the fields. I got wet from the dew while picking our breakfast berries. It felt autumnal and it is not even the end of August. I need to go and check up on the apples in Johnnie Mackin’s orchard as we have no apples on our own trees. The good news is that the mass path is passable again. It is not clear but it is no longer a tangle and a struggle.

25 August Sunday

Tommie was away in hospital for three weeks but now he is home again. He is glad to be back at home. He says that he is still weak. He is happiest when he is sitting down or lying down. He says that he is not feeling Too Mighty. Margaret went to stay with her sister while he was in hospital. She is not able to stay alone. Usually she does not go much of anywhere at all, so being at her sister’s was a holiday for her. In a normal week she goes to Mass and she goes to have her hair done. These are her two trips out. Sometimes she goes out driving in the car with Tommie but that is not going anywhere. It is just going. The hairdresser has now retired but she continues to do Margaret and three other women who have been her customers for a long time. These women are now invited to go directly to the hairdresser’s house. Tommie is proud that Margaret is one of these chosen few.

24 August Saturday

Kathleen gave me news of her grandsons. One of them is 16 and he has a summer job. He has been up every morning at 6 am to milk 250 cows.  She says that he is loving every day of it.

22 August Thursday

Derek the Post said he had seen John at a funeral. John was our former postman. He is now retired. He has been ill for a long time but he was fit enough to attend a co-workers funeral. Derek said John was not looking good but at least he was there. Derek said it was a great funeral. He said they gave their fellow postman a grand send-off.  He said, “Give me a funeral over a wedding any day. At least you can have fun at a funeral.”

21 August Wednesday

The black and white farm cat spends a lot of time looking at the wall. It is waiting for shrews or rats or mice or whatever rodent is living in the spaces between the stones. The cat can wait for hours without moving. The grass in the center of the boreen is high. Sometimes this same cat sits in the tall grass exactly in the middle and it refuses to move even when confronted with a car. It snarls and hisses at the motorcar as if there is a chance it can win. Today it tucked itself down flat as if that might make itself invisible. It almost worked. I think I could have driven over the cat without doing damage to it when it was tucked down low and tight to the ground like that but I am a bit nervous to try it. This is not a likeable cat but still, I do not want to kill it.

19 August Monday

The town did not really get going until 10. I had been dropped off at 8.45. It was hard to find anything open. It was difficult to find even a cup of coffee. The few people around looked happy, but dazed. There was a lot of broken glass on the pavements. The shopkeepers sweeping up the glass were all in buoyant moods. The smell of beer and urine was everywhere. The door of a phone booth was held open with an entire case of empty Bulmer’s cider bottles. As the town woke up and more people appeared on the streets, everyone was discussing where they had been for yesterday’s match. Tipperary won. Many people watched from here and many went up to Dublin. It is important to mark where one was on such a momentous occasion. The overpricing of tickets is still being commented upon.

Now the primary topic of conversation is no longer rain. It is The Win. Now the question is:

“Will ye go to Thurles tonight?”

“Will ye be driving up for the welcoming parade?”

“It will be mobbed of course it will” is what everyone says, but each person declares that of course they cannot miss it.

There is so much ritual. Today I learned about the hospital visits with the Liam MacCarthy Cup. The winning team made visits to the two childrens’ hospitals in Dublin. This is apparently a yearly ritual for every winning team of the All-Ireland. It happens like clockwork the day after the match. The entire team goes in and shows the Liam McCarthy to the ailing children. There is a lot of posing of team members with children in their pyjamas and with the Liam MacCarthy. It does not matter if the children are from Tipperary nor if the children even like the game of hurling. This is the first time I have heard of this visit.

The radio is full of cancellations. Bingo and many other things all over will be cancelled as the whole county will be rushing to Thurles for the big victory parade and party at the stadium. I will be glad when I do not need to pay any more attention to all of this. There will always be more detail. I will never know enough to know all of it.

Endless Rain

18 August Sunday

Before the sun sets today, there will be a new owner of the Liam MacCarthy Cup. It is the big day for the All-Ireland hurling final. The counties of Tipperary and Kilkenny are in a frenzy. Many thousands of fans will be traveling to Dublin for the match at Croke Park. Everyone else will be watching the game in bars or at home. The build-up and excitement has been immense. People are all sporting the Tipp colours of gold and royal blue. The colours are more and more wide-spread every day. Shirts and flags and pennants and caps and dangling car fresheners in the shape of shirts and the funny little lengths of braided wool that appear before every big match. I am fascinated by these braids. I imagine the lengths of yarn being carefully braided by grandmothers and mothers to be hung on car mirrors, antennas and handbags. Any bit of decoration is good as long as it shows the Tipp colours. The Kilkenny colours are yellow and black. These are neighbouring counties with a long and fierce rivalry. A small stone bridge on the border has been painted so that one side is blue and gold and other side is black and yellow.  Every interaction has people discussing whether or not they will be attending the match in person. Nobody has asked me where, or even if, I will be watching the match. Once the match is won, The Liam MacCarthy becomes the important and cherished thing. The word Cup is dropped. And it is never called a trophy.  The Liam MacCarthy will be held high on the top of the bus in the parade for the team when they come home from Dublin. The Liam MacCarthy will travel up and down the county for a year and it will appear in hundreds of photographs. It will be taken to schools and sports centers and old peoples homes and any number of places where groups are gathered. It seems that every single person wants to be photographed with The Liam MacCarthy.

16 August Friday

There was a bright dry spell after lunch. I spent two hours scraping moss and some horrible slimy stuff off the concrete area outside my workroom. There were brown globs of the stuff all over the place. At first I thought they were excrement, maybe from the fox. On closer examination, I saw that they were kind of translucent and more sepia than brown in colour. If I saw these globs on a beach I would assume they were some kind of seaweed. Stepping on them was dangerous. Moss is slippery enough but these globs were extremely slippery. These globs were deadly. I do not know what to call them. Globs is as good a word as any. I filled an entire wheelbarrow with moss and globs and a few opportunistic weeds that were growing out of the cement and between the stones. By the time I finished, it began to rain. Again.

15 August Thursday

Acting the Maggot is a way of saying that someone is messing. A person who is a messer would Act the Maggot without a second thought. Most farmers are happy for us to walk through their land but they would not be happy if we were to be Acting the Maggot. Acting the Maggot might just be some rowdy and foolish behaviour or it might be reckless and destructive. There is a certain amount of disrespect involved with such bad behaviour. It might be a lot of disrespect or it might be a little.

14 August Wednesday

I have filled another huge bowl with more black currants. They just keep coming. And now the raspberries are ripening. That means more picking in an everyday kind of way. Apples and plums are barely visible. After the heavily laden branches of last year, it is a shock to see how few apples there are on any of the trees. There is one tree that is having normal growth and production but most of the trees are leafy and lush with no apples at all. As always, I have been keeping a careful eye on the figs. It has been disappointing to see how few there are. This morning I walked up the stone steps to go into the small mezzanine room and I could barely get in the door. The fig branches and leaves had taken over the top of the steps and all of the branches up there were full of fruit. Once inside the room the thick foliage took over the entrance. It was a battle to get in and a battle to get out. One side of the tree is devoid of figs and the other side is full of figs. Now I must pay regular attention so that the birds do not get more than me.

12 August Monday

The rain is sort of endless. It is endless but erratic. There are moments of blazing sunshine and blue skies but every day there is rain. It is not cold rain. But it is rain. The days are warm and often muggy and the rain is a constant. Sometimes it falls straight out of the sky in an enormous heavy downpour and then it stops abruptly. The sky clears and it is bright and then it buckets down again. Sometimes it is an off and on again drizzle that never ceases but it never really stops anything from happening. A man walked out of the shop this morning and he pointed up at the sky. He announced, “He is very cross That Man Up There. The only way to please Him is to go to Mass five times a day but I’ll not be doing that! I carry an umbrella wherever I go.” I was the only person around. Even so, I am not certain that he was talking to me.

11 August Sunday

When I first discovered the Distemper Brush, I loved it. I wanted to buy it but I did not need it. I just wanted it. I took a photograph of it on the painted cement floor of the hardware shop. I kept thinking about it. Eventually I just had to buy the brush, so I bought it and brought it home. I hung it on the wall where I admire it daily. I sent photographs to Laurie and she made a beautiful drawing of the brush for my book Too Raucous for a Chorus. I have kept an eye on the section of the hardware shop where the brush was hung. It was the only one in stock when I bought it and to this day it has not been replaced. Maybe there is not much demand for painting with distemper these days. Now I have made a postcard of the brush so I can share it more widely. I am loving the postcard nearly as much as the brush itself.

10 August Saturday

It was disappointing not to see The Crosswords from Clogheen this morning. I wanted to ask them if the Sheep Racing had taken place as scheduled last week in spite the heavy rain. I was ready with a lot of questions about how they get the sheep to line up and how they get them to go in the same direction and how they get them to keep going in the same direction. I wondered if perhaps there was a sheepdog in the back urging them forward or at least not allowing them to change direction. I wondered what sort of marking or numbering they used to keep track of each sheep contestant. I have spent a lot of time thinking about it all. I am sorry that I did not drive over in the lashing rain just on the off chance that the race took place. It might not have happened but it might have. Either way, I am sorry to have missed it.

8 August Thursday

There is always another dead bird. This is the first time that I have picked up a bird with a plate. This bird smashed into a window. When I found it, it was still warm but it was dead. The plate has been useful as I moved it around to keep it out of the sun. It is time to toss it over the hedge but I keep looking at it. I wish I knew what it was.

7 August Wednesday

Marian bemoaned that the summer is Flying By. She said, “That’s what happens when June doesn’t fall good.” She said, “Summer never works if you don’t have a June.”

Sheep Racing at 7 o’clock.

5 August Bank Holiday Monday

People often substitute the word Ye in place of the word You. They use it in conversation and they use it in text messages.  To my ear it sounds almost biblical. (Are ye back yet?) I love hearing it and I love reading it but I cannot use it myself   I cannot incorporate it into my speech.  It would sound false in my mouth.

4 August Sunday

I knew there would be rain. I  believed the forecast. The forecast was for The Odd Passing Shower. The forecast promised that the showers would hold off until the afternoon. I walked up and around Knockperry. As usual, I wondered about the carved head installed in someones wall. I always intend to ask someone somewhere about its history. I always forget.  I got two thirds of the way around before the skies opened. I had no rain jacket and there was no shelter up there so I just kept walking. I got soaked through. Not one part of me was dry. There is a small encampment of travellers just before the road drops down. Actually it is just one caravan and one horse trailer and a bunch of stuff scattered around. Two dogs huddled underneath the caravan and watched me walking by in the pouring rain.  I had been told that there was Sheep Racing scheduled for 7 o’clock in Clogheen. I was eager to see how anyone could convince sheep to race against one another, much less run in the same direction, but the rain was so heavy that I never got to Clogheen to find out.

3 August Saturday

Maurice told me that the word Áras means large building. It suggests a residential building. An abode. A dwelling. Maybe a castle. He said that the central Bus Station in Dublin which is called Bus Áras is not literally translated as Bus Station but should instead  be The Bus Castle.

2 August Friday

The room where the wake was being held was not large. There were family members in chairs along two of the walls. The deceased was laid out in a coffin against the wall at the far end of the room. We filed in behind others in the single line and we shook hands with each member of the family. We repeated our condolences and we said “I am sorry for your loss” over and over again. When a person reached the coffin, he or she stopped and crossed themselves. I did not cross myself. I just continued to the next group of family members.  As always, the room was hushed and the lighting was subdued. When we first arrived and before we had been able to enter the room with the family and the dead man we had to wait in a small line. It was not a long line, but first we were out on the pavement in the sunshine and then we stood in a little entry hall. As we were waiting to take our turn an elderly man came out and he shook the hands of each one of us who were waiting to go in. He said, and then repeated again and again, “I will have to die myself to ever be this popular.”

1 August Thursday

I miss walking up the mass path. It is thick with all of the growth of summer. It is not possible to walk with shorts and short sleeves without being attacked by the nettles and the brambles. Even with long trousers and long sleeves the tangle is winning. I am missing out on a lot of installments of growth and animal movement and bird activity. I do not even know all that I am missing. It will not be long before I am able to move through it all again without too much of a struggle. It will be like no time has passed.

 

31 July Wednesday

Picking black currants and picking more black currants. The picking does not end. The currants are fat and delicious but I am beginning to wish there were not so many of them.

 

30 July Tuesday

We took the ferry from Liverpool. It was a new way for us to return from England. The boat was mostly freight. There were only a few cars on boat. We were the very last car to board because we drove round and round the area looking for the dock which was not signposted in any way. Everyone had begun to eat when we got upstairs from the vehicle deck. It was 8 o’clock. Our food was included as part of the fare price. We all ate our hearty suppers as the boat prepared to leave and within half an hour of announcing that food was being served, the Phillipino kitchen staff started clearing it all away. Everything was completely gone before we even left the enormous harbour of Liverpool. Most of the truck drivers knew this so they took two helpings of the steamed pudding with loads of custard in case they missed their chance. There were no more than fifteen tables spread between two rooms. Since everyone was eating at the same time it was easy to see that there were not many people on board. In the room where we ate there was a large round table with a few smaller tables close by around the edges. Everyone who sat at the round table was a lorry driver from Northern Ireland. Maybe they all knew each other from earlier crossings. Maybe they did not know each other from earlier crossings. I think the brotherhood of truck drivers means that they did know each other simply by their job. They were all in the same club. They discussed the tiny utilitarian cabins which we had all been assigned. They commented on the narrow little bunks. Several of the men remembered ferries where they had been required to bring their own sheets and pillows along with them. There was a nostalgia about this, either for the time or for where those those journeys had taken them. This ferry did not seem to be of this time, but the drivers were remembering even less modern journeys. We listened to the men discuss their travels. They had all been away to different places and now they were all going home. Being at the center of the room placed both them and their exchanges on stage. The lights started dimming. By 9 o’clock we were all encouraged to head down to our teeny cabins to sleep.

At 5 am, there was a loudspeaker announcement regarding the serving of breakfast. Then a person walked down the corridor tapping twice on each door with a key or some metallic object to make sure we were awake. We heard our own two taps and we heard the tapping continuing down the hallway. We climbed back up the steep ladder-like staircase, where everyone ate porridge and tea and toast. The Northern Irish drivers sat at their round table. No one had had much sleep so it was quieter than it had been the night before. Each of the truckers sat with two or three extra cups of tea at their place. The extras were to carry down to their lorries. We were all down on the vehicle deck by 5.30. The freight drivers lined up their cups on their dashboards. The boat decanted us into Dublin Harbour at 6 o’clock on Sunday morning. Driving through the city has never been so easy.

And we were back at home in Ballybeg before 9, even after a stop in Cahir to buy milk and a few staples.