The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: December, 2019

Seven Thirty.

19 December Thursday

The fence has fallen down. It has been propped up many times, first from one side and then from the other side.  I think this is the end. The posts are rotten from the bottom up. The rain and the mud have won. The wild strong winds of last night were the final straw. The wind just blew the fence down. There is no way it will ever stand again. The west of the country was badly hit by these winds.  Losing our already wobbly fence is not much of a problem in comparison. Even the little stile step has given up.

18 December Wednesday

After living here these many years, I still say Seven Thirty instead of Half Seven. And the day after Christmas is just the day after Christmas. But I cannot say that out loud. It is yet another example of how I get things wrong. The day after Christmas is Stephen’s Day or it is St. Stephen’s Day. If I were to say it is Boxing Day that would be incorrect because that is what the English call it. No one here says Boxing Day. And no one says Merry Christmas. It is Happy Christmas. Happy not Merry. Merry would mark me as from somewhere else, as if my accent does not already do that. Nor do I call the Nativity scene The Crib. If I speak of it at all, I would call it the Nativity or the Manger. No one says The Manger. It is always The Crib. The Baby Jesus is in The Crib. The whole scene with the shepherds and the kings and Mary and everyone else is called The Crib. And when people say that they will see me in the New Year they punctuate their good wishes by saying Please God or God Willing. These are two more expressions that are not in my vocabulary. I am consistently marked by the things I get wrong.

17 December Tuesday

I asked for black ink cartridges. The woman in the small shop had blue ink cartridges. She had no black ink. She said, “Blue is the correct color for ink. There is no one alive who needs to write with black ink. No one in their right mind would use black ink. Blue is the color for ink.” She was so vehement that I bought the blue ink cartridges even though I did not want them. I wanted black ink. I still want black ink. Now I will have to wait until I use up the blue ink before I can move back to black ink. I am going to make myself use the blue ink. Just to think about it again and again. I shall write a lot and frequently with that pen until I use up the blue ink. Luckily I only bought the one packet. And I will have to find a different shop.

16 December Monday

Adrian was weighing some parcels for me in his post office cubicle. A man was behind me waiting for his turn at the counter. He was not directly behind me but he was over near the bird seed and the dog foods just looking at things in a relaxed manner. It was not like being in line but it was obvious to both him and to me that he was next and anyway we were the only people there. The radio in the shop was playing some Christmas music. The man was facing towards the bird nuts with his back to me when he started to sing along with the carols. As he got warmed up his voice got louder and he began to harmonize. He sang in a beautiful voice. When I was finished I nodded to him and said “Thank you for the singing.” He nodded back and continued to sing as he walked over to the counter. The song on the radio was not over yet so the man did not stop singing until the song came to an end.

15 December Sunday

Laurence has been in and out of hospital and now he is at home again. He looks frail but he seems happy to be back. I asked John how his father was doing and he answered that “He’d want to be as Good as he is.”


14 December Saturday

Jim found mouse droppings in his bag of oats. He likes to be the one to prepare the porridge every morning. He makes the porridge for himself and for Margo. Margo is the Polish woman who is living in the house as a carer for Jim. Her real name is not Margo but not one person could pronounce her Polish name so Jim called her Margo. Now everyone else calls her Margo too. Jim is 93 and he cannot be alone at night. Margo has her own rooms upstairs and she is there Just In Case there is a need for her. When Jim found the mouse droppings he said that it was a fiddly job to separate them from the oats. He said that he did not mind that a mouse had been in the oats but that he himself would not be the one to pick out the droppings. He told Margot that this would be a good job for her. He told her that she could separate all of the mouse droppings from the oats and he would stick to the more pressing job of preparing their porridge for breakfast.

13 December Friday

A few years ago, Joe devised a new and sort of rigid system of keeping the gates drawn across so that the cows can move from the field to the yard or from the yard out into the fields. When the gates are pulled across and blocking the car passing, it is inevitably a wet day. It is always a muddy and mucky mess at the top by the farm and it is never the kind of day when I want to get out and go to find someone to open the gates. I could do it myself but that would assume that I am wearing boots and that I do not mind walking in the muck. I always have the wrong sort of shoes for that job and anyway I rarely want to fill the inside of the car with mud and manure. In recent weeks, there has been a new man working with Joe. I assume he is Polish. But he might be Latvian or Moldovian or even Lithuanian. He is definitely Eastern European. He was very cheerful when I needed the gate opened today and then when I came back a little later and the gates were still blocking me he was cheerful again. His English is poor but he told me to just lay on the horn and he would come to open up for me. “No problem.” He said and he repeated: “No problem.”

When the post man finds the gates across the road he uses it as an excuse to not drive down the boreen. He just marks on the letter Gates Locked and that gives him permission to leave our post in the van overnight or even for several nights.

12 December Thursday

We entered the airport through the arrival doors and we were hit with a blast of noise.  There was Irish music playing loudly on some kind of CD player or portable sound system and a row of five children in school uniforms dancing energetically. This was a welcome home performance for the many people arriving home from far away for the Christmas holidays. At a pause in the music, the five dancing children were shoved out of the way by another five children who took their places and danced and jigged like mad with their hands on their hips and big smiles on their faces. Another group pushed them roughly out of the way and they began to dance. This continued for as long as we watched. Then we were pushed out of the way by the next group of people off another flight coming through the arrivals door.


You Can’t Go Near It For The Weather.

3 December Tuesday

I found the dead mouse. Most of the stench had already evaporated. It was not the burning of the candle that eliminated the smell. It was the drying out of the corpse. I opened a box containing our small concertina After Brancusi. Dozens of enormous bluebottle flies came flying out smashing into my face and collecting all over my head. I rushed the box outside and the remaining flies flew away. The dead mouse was resting in a sorry clump on top of the little volumes. I could see that some of the contents would need to be thrown away. As would the box. Enough bodily fluids had escaped to render some things ruined. After the mouse was removed what could be rescued was rescued. And once free of the distraction of death, I enjoyed looking at my drawing of the bench which was my whole reason for opening the box in the first place.

2 December Monday

I got a text announcing that a short film had been made about Frank’s shop in Grange. The shop has been closed for several years now. Frank became ill, and his son Shay ran it for a while, but then the family decided to just stop completely.  We none of us knew if it might be re-opened at a later date.  We hoped that it would be re-opened. We all miss Frank’s shop. The film about the shop was made by a grandson named Michael. There was a showing of the film in the Village Hall in October.  Unfortunately, I missed the viewing. I heard later that the Hall was completely packed out with family and friends. It was standing room only.  It was perfect for Frank and his wife to walk the very few steps from their house to the Hall. They were the stars of the evening. Today PJ sent me this link for the film.  I have already watched it four times. I wish it went on for longer.


1 December Sunday

It was dry enough this morning to spend time plucking figs. It is one of those jobs I have been meaning to do for the whole month of November. It was one of many jobs that we could not do because of the rain.  The excuse everyone repeats is that You Can’t Go Near It For The Weather. The fig leaves had already died and dried and fallen so the fruits were easily visible. The rule is to pick all of the figs except the ones that are the size of the smallest fingernail. The tiny tiny remaining figs will be the first ones to begin their growth in the spring. Because the morning was sharp and cold, I found that I was snapping the figs off rather than plucking them off the branches.

29 November Friday

The woman told the man in the shop to Leave It Into The Bag. Leave is frequently used in place of the word Put.


27 November Wednesday

Ned Shine arrived in the yard in his Hedge Cutter. The machine is always called the Hedge Cutter even though the hedges are always called ditches. Ned was cutting the ditches with his Hedge Cutter. He opened the door of the cab so that we could say hello to one another. His sheepdog was in the cab with him. I could not see the dog until the door was open because she was well below the level of the window. She was tucked in beside Ned’s feet. The dog’s face and my face were exactly across from one another.  I was standing on the ground and she was sitting in the cab. I have never seen this dog before.  I do not know her and she does not know me. That did not seem to matter. She began to lick my face as soon as the door opened. When she was finished licking me, I closed the door and Ned continued with his hedge cutting.

26 November Tuesday

There is a dead mouse in my workroom. I cannot find it but I can smell it. The stench is bad. There are big fat flies looping about. These are the kind of flies that gather around death. It is probably best that I cannot find the corpse. It is too cold to leave the door open to get rid of the smell. I have been burning a scented candle that someone gave to me as a gift. It is the kind of gift that someone else gave to that someone. And that someone saved it until it was time to pass it on to someone else. No one wants this candle. It has a terrible smell all of its own. I liken it to a floral toilet cleaner. Who makes these candles? Who thinks they are a good idea? Who thinks they smell good? I lit the candle and headed out for a walk. Between the smell of the dead mouse and that of the stinky candle, it was impossible to stay in my room.


25 November Monday

Everything is wet. It feels like it has been raining forever. Everything that is not wet and underwater is covered with moss. There is a mossy covering all over everything. The moss grows on rocks and hard surfaces. It loves the damp. It is bright green and cheerful but it is wet. Fields are flooded and there are sandbags all over the place. Everything everywhere underfoot is squishy and slippery. I cannot drive through the farmyard without mud and muck splashing all over the car. And I can neither get in nor out of the car without a special kind of push and leap movement. If I forget to do my leap I end up with a thick line of mud across the back of the right leg of my trousers. Everyday someone tells me that I have mud on my trousers. It is always a woman who tells me. It is always someone telling me nicely and quietly because they think that of course I will want to know. They are certain that I do not want to be out and about in town nor anywhere else with a big clump on mud on my trousers. I always say thank you and I act a little surprised to find that I have mud on my leg. I do not tell them that this is an every day event and that it is not just mud but it is mainly cow manure. It is a greenish brown kind of mud and manure mix because the cows are still eating grass and the color of the manure reflects that. The boreen goes right through the farmyard so I have no choice but to drive through the muck. And it does not matter how often I clean the side of the car the splash-up happens again the minute I drive through the yard. Soon the cows will be moved up onto their winter platform and they will not be crossing the road anymore. The ground will freeze so there will be less mud. I hardly dare to hope that this rain will stop.

24 November Sunday

There was a terrible noise of yelping and baying and barking. The hunt was in the valley. I am not a fan of the hunt. I dislike the advantage of the dressed-up people on horseback. The one who has the horn is called The Master. He is constantly bellowing and blowing and shouting to the dogs and to the other riders across the fields. I hate the fox being hounded out of his world and running for his life. At one point the noise of the dogs down by the stream got louder and louder. I could not stand it for another minute. It sounded like they had cornered the fox. I rushed down the path to shout at the dogs and to confuse them with a different command from a different human. I was running downhill as fast as I could on the rough ground wearing rubber boots. The ground was slippery with wet leaves and muddy grass. I nearly collided with the fox who was rushing uphill to escape the dogs. I do not know which of us was more startled. He turned abruptly and rushed back towards the dogs who were baying. They obviously thought they already had him cornered in some place that he had already slipped away from. The fox did not know that I was there to help him. He could not know that I was not trying to hurt him. I felt terrible. I had foiled his escape route and scared him even more. I felt better when I could tell by the dog sounds that they knew the fox had eluded them. He must have veered left and up into Joe’s field. After that the dogs continued their chaotic running in all directions. I chased them out of the yard each time they arrived until they finally disappeared up and into Donal’s fields.