The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Month: January, 2020

He Has Been Knitting His Own Cardigan.

15 January Wednesday

A courier rang and announced that he was up at the farm. He refused to drive down the boreen. He had a parcel to deliver and it needed a signature. He claimed that he could not and he would not leave it at the shop in the village. I explained that the people at the shop signed for our deliveries all the time. I said it was a system that worked and that it was normal for us. He was not going to do it. He said that if I did not arrive to sign for the parcel he would be obliged to return it to the warehouse. The rain was lashing down. I said he would have to wait a little while as I had no car today and I would have to walk up to meet him. He said he could wait but then he said he would not wait for long. He told me to hurry. I slogged up the track in my rain jacket and my welly boots carrying an umbrella. I carried the umbrella because I knew I would need to protect the parcel on the way back down.  I was hoping it would not be too heavy. He handed me the thing to sign out the window of his van. He had no intention of getting out and getting wet. I passed him the umbrella. He held it over my head while I signed and then he handed me the parcel and returned my umbrella all while sitting up high and dry in his van.

16 January Thursday

The judge in the court case was annoyed. The young man in question was not doing the things he was supposed to be doing. He was not doing the things that he had been ordered to do by the court and he was not doing things in the order that they had been assigned to him. He was not obeying the rules of his probation and the judge said that he was self-referring elsewhere. The young man was just doing things in whatever way he felt like doing them. He is knitting his own jumper. He has been allowed to knit his own cardigan. These are the expressions the judge used. I suppose the expressions might be positive in certain contexts but in this case they were not.

17 January Friday

A rabbit is a symbol of luck. John Mike casts rabbits in a jelly mold. I do not know if he casts rabbits because they are a symbol of luck or if he just he likes rabbits. He casts the rabbits in concrete, not in jelly. His garden is full of rabbits. Some are painted and some are left natural. The colour of concrete is the colour he calls natural. Rabbits are tucked under bushes and in little lines around the edges of the beds. There must be several hundred rabbits in the small area around his house. Maybe there are more. He will not listen when anyone curses real rabbits that are eating vegetables and young plants in their own garden. John Mike will not have a bad word said about rabbits. He holds up his hands and shouts STOP. STOP. STOP.

18 January Saturday

Free. I have learned a new nickname. Free is short for Geoffrey. Free Hackett. Free Costigan.

20 January Monday

There were only two of us sitting in the waiting area. A nurse came out and spoke to the other woman who was waiting and then she went away. Before she left she encouraged the woman to fill up her cup at the water cooler and to keep drinking. The woman had been sitting on the other side of the room but she moved to sit closer to me. She came and sat in a chair leaving only one empty seat between us. The woman and I were sitting in the Ultrasound Scan department. We were both waiting to be called. My instruction letter had said that I should drink one and a half liters of water one and a half hours before I arrived. After I drank all that water I was instructed to Hold It. The woman had obviously had the same letter. She told me that the first thing she did when she arrived in the scan waiting room was to go and pee. She said she could not wait one minute longer.  She said that she could not hold any water at all these days. She said she certainly could not hold a liter and a half and if she could she certainly could not hold it for that long. She sipped slowly from her plastic cup. She said, “It might be alright if I had a lift to get myself home but I have to go home on the bus. There is no way I am getting on the bus after wetting my pants.”

The nurse came back and introduced herself to me. She said her name was Rose. She checked my date of birth and she told me to keep drinking water. She refilled my cup and then she refilled the cup for the other woman. She told us both to keep drinking.

The woman looked over at the book I was reading and she squealed, “Oooh! I’d like to read that book.” I was startled by her enthusiasm. I asked her if she knew something about the book. She said No. I asked her if she was a fan of the writing of Natalia Ginzburg. She said No, but she said that she liked the title. The title was “Happiness, as Such”. She asked me if the book was good. She asked if it was new. I told her that it was not new. I explained that it had been published in 1973 in Italian. I told her that this translation had been done in 2019. So it was new in English. She snorted. “Why would you be wanting to read such an old book? I only like new books. I like happy books. I might like that book but probably I would not because it is too old.”

Rose came back and asked the woman to finish her still full cup of water. When the cup was drained, she led the woman away to the Ultrasound room.


21 January Tuesday

The mornings have been crunchy and white with frost. The frost does not last long but it is good to have this hard dry cold after all of the mud and damp. Everything looks different.

22 January Wednesday

I detour past the house as often as I can. I do not know who lives there. I know nothing at all about the house. I have been trying to understand what the gunny sacking is doing on the wall. Why is it draped in such a particular way and over such a small area of such an enormous wall? The fabric is well secured and it has been there for several months already. Is it hiding something or is it protecting something? It has not been left there by chance. Each time I approach, I think that this time will be the time when I pass the house and the fabric is gone.  If it is gone, I will not know anything more than I know now.

23 January Thursday

The birds continue to empty the green-topped feeder. The nuts in the other feeder do get eaten. Eventually. Slowly. Very very slowly. Every day I tell myself that I will not refill the green-topped feeder until they are both empty, but then I do it. I cannot bear to see the branches laden with birds all waiting for nuts. I just want to know why they do not like the metal-topped feeder.


Dirty Carrots + Small Potatoes

6 January Monday

Today is Women’s Christmas. Little Christmas. Nollaig na mBan. Twelfth Night. Epiphany. Today is the last day of Christmas. The tradition is that all the decorations and signs of the holiday must come down and be put away before the day is over. The tree. The wreath. The cards. The lights. Everything must be cleared away. The men are supposed to take over the duties of the house because the understanding is that the women have been doing all of the cooking and cleaning and everything over the twelve days of Christmas and now they need a break. Women gather together to go out for lunch or afternoon tea or dinner just to be together with other women and to have the chance to eat some different food. Women get together to be without children or responsibilities. I assume all of the holiday stuff has to be completed before the women go out but I am not sure exactly who does all the clearing. It is probably the women.  The new thing I learned is that the kitchen floor must be swept before going to bed on Twelfth Night. Again, I do not know who does the sweeping and is it the very very last thing done before going to bed?

7 January Tuesday

The ground underfoot continues to be muddy and slippery. I have been walking out with Breda’s dogs every day. My current preferred route is up Murphy’s lane and into the fields. The stubble in the field is crunchy even while it is soggy. It does not make sense. The stubble gives no resistance underfoot. When flattened it stops my feet from sinking in to the mud but it is soft and pliable and it still makes a crunching noise. I find the combination of crunchy and soggy at the same time confusing. The dogs don’t mind. They are running and running and running and trying to sniff down every single rabbit hole.

8 January Wednesday

It has been unseasonably mild. There are cows out in fields. Joe’s cows are in a field that has kale in it so this is a winter eating treat for them. It is not normal to see cows out in the fields at this time of year. Most herds are kept under cover in big sheds with open sides so there is air and light but no freedom to roam. They stand on slatted floors so their excrement falls through and they are not standing in their own mess. Standing outside in mud and muck, or inside in muck, causes hoof infections. Joe houses his cows up on a specially constructed platform. The platform is open so the animals are exposed to the elements all winter. I believe this is called an Out Wintering Pad. In the summer months, Joe gets delivery of enormous piles of wood shavings. The shavings get dumped in several piles and he uses the tractor to move them all into a storage place. While they are outside the smell is wonderful and woody. Throughout the winter, fresh shavings get spread down on the outdoor slats and replenished every so often. I find it worrying that the cows are outside in the rain and the cold and the winds all day and all night all winter. Joe has assured me that it is not a problem for the cows. I continue to worry.

9 January Thursday

There is a shed up beside the ruin of Murphy’s cottage. It is open to the elements but the roof is still good. There are three small triangular windows in one wall of the building. Someone laid a piece of sheet glass on the bottom edge of one of the triangles, like a window sill.


10 January Friday

The place where I enter the Lumpy Fields is two rusted gates joined together at a single point in the middle. A twisted piece of wire holds the gates together in a precarious kind of balance.  To make the opening big enough to pass through, I use both hands to lift and push the diagonal gate up into a horizontal position and then I slide it along to allow enough space for me to pass between the edge of the gate and the wire of the electric fence. For some reason the fencing wire is always on even though there are no cows in the vicinity. I do not need much space to squeeze through but I have been zapped enough times to want to avoid more shocks. To close the gate, I slide the one along again until there is more weight in the section of gate on the right and it drops back into its angled position. The two gates are old and not very sturdy but the system works.

11 January Saturday

When asked if a man would be running for a local political office again in the upcoming elections, the women seemed to be in agreement that He was very Shook Looking. This did not mean that he had been shaken up nor upset by something.  Mary explained that it meant that he was not looking healthy.


12 January Sunday

The farmers market was open at barely half capacity yesterday. There were not many stalls and there was very little to buy. It was windy and cold and drizzling with rain.  I am not sure why any of us were there.  I bought Dirty Carrots and a cauliflower from Pat.  I do not like Dirty Carrots. I have never understood the excitement with which they are greeted. People go looking for Dirty Carrots and they are excited when they find them.  I have no problem with a dirty carrot but I will never understand the lure of Dirty Carrots.  Dirty Carrots have clumps of soil on them. They take a lot of washing. The sink is full of sand and clay after they are washed. I do not think they taste any better than any other carrot. I have been marveling about the attraction of Dirty Carrots for years. I rarely buy them, but because there was so little to purchase yesterday I did buy some. While paying for the Dirty Carrots and the cauliflower, I looked at Pat’s money box. He was using small potatoes in the compartments where the bills were piled up in order to keep his paper money from blowing away.




He Is Not Keen On Caps.


4 January Saturday

Birds are crashing into the windows every day. I think they think it is spring because the days are so mild and things that should not be growing are growing. Most of them fly off but sometimes they knock themselves out when they hit the glass. This afternoon I heard a loud thump. When I went outside, I found a fat robin on the path. She was on her back breathing heavily. After about an hour, she was still there but her breathing was less labored. I picked her up and moved her to the table with a little bit of water and some mashed up nuts. She sat upright and very still for another hour and then a second robin came to collect her and they flew off together.

3 January Friday

I went into a shop in town to buy a few things. The shelves were nearly empty. They did not even have any milk. More places are opening up again after the holidays but the delivery of supplies has not fully kicked back into operation. I sort of wondered why this shop was open at all. When I went to the counter to pay, the woman at the till offered me a coupon for a discount off my few purchases. I said okay and waited but she did not give me a coupon. Her eyes were darting back and forth and back and forth and she moved her head as though she had a crick in the neck. She said “Look at me. Look at me. Look at my eyes. Look where I am looking. Down! Down! Down to the left!” It almost seemed like she was talking to someone else but I was the only person there. I looked down to the left and there was a piece of paper with four coupons on it. She spoke in a loud whisper. She said, “Pick it up. Pick it up. Rip one off and give it to me. I cannot be seen to be giving it to you, but it is there for the taking. There is a camera installed here now and if they see me giving you the coupons, it will mean my job, but there is no reason why you cannot find them for yourself!” I did as she instructed and when I handed her the coupon, she acted surprised and then she gave me 5 euro off my shopping.


2 January Thursday

The pencil selling dispenser is new and shaped like a short fat pencil. The top of the unit has a point like a sharpened pencil. It is made of clear plastic with small drawers to open once a pencil has been selected. The little drawers are labelled from 5B or 5H  right on down to plain H.  Every pencil in the display is a Faber Castell. I believe it is the only kind of everyday pencil sold in the entire country.

1 January Wednesday

The boreen is full of trees that have fallen over in the winds and because of the rain. The earth is still so wet. Roots cannot hold. The earth has been wet for so long that even though the rains have stopped everything remains soggy. Branches heavily laden with ivy have snapped off. Once again I am crawling on my knees to go underneath trees and climbing over other trees and slipping in the mud just to take a walk. I am wondering why I do not simply go for a walk somewhere else.

31 December Tuesday

Another unseasonably mild morning. Two women were standing outside the shop talking. One of them was saying that her tree has lasted well this year. She said it is the best Christmas tree she has ever had. She said it still has not dropped any needles. She has confidence that it will last well right up until Twelfth Night. Her companion said that must be because it was more freshly cut when she brought it into the house. “No,” said the woman, “It is because I have been putting Red Bull into the bucket instead of my usual sugar and water.”

30 December Monday

We are seeing shoots of green as daffodils push up and out of the ground. We are not seeing snowdrops yet. The order of everything is wrong.


29 December Sunday

Tommie is up and down to Waterford to visit Margaret in Ardkeen Hospital. She fell and broke her hip again. It might be the same hip that she broke a few years ago or it might be the other hip. He might have told me which hip it was, but I have forgotten.  She had to have two operations to get it right. He said that she is weak but cheerful. Different people take Tommie down to visit with her every other day. He finds the whole journey very tiring. It is almost an hour away and he can no longer drive that far himself. I have offered to drive him but he says he has a waiting list of offers so instead I check up on him on the days when he does not go down to Waterford. Billy Kennedy took him down on the 25th so that he could have his Christmas dinner together with Margaret. She cannot hear much and she cannot see much so all she can do is to worry. She worries about small things. She insisted that Tommie take her blue cardigan home and then she asked him to bring it back. She has been back and forth about her purse too. First she is afraid to have it with her in the hospital and then she is afraid to not have it with her. Tommie put his foot down about that.  He is refusing to take her purse back  to the hospital. Now she wants Tommie to bring her the vase that she made by sticking broken ceramics into plaster. She says it will brighten up her room to have the vase and the artificial flowers there. He says she won’t be able to see it anyway. I think it is important for him to discuss these demands that Margaret makes upon him because besides carrying things back and forth to Waterford, there is not one thing he can do to help her.


27 December Friday

The morning was cold and grey. We walked up Middlequarter. Just before turning onto the rough track, we met a woman with two small dogs. The first dog stopped in front of Simon and he refused to move. He was not aggressive. He just stopped. The woman said “He is Not Keen on Cats.” We had no idea what she meant. There were no cats in sight. She nudged the dog forward and patted herself on the head. It was well after she and the dogs had gone that we realized she had said Caps. “He is Not Keen on Caps.” The dog had a problem with Simon’s tweed cap and he had to be jollied along to continue walking. I was surprised that a dog would have such an opinion about headgear.


25 December Wednesday

There are two feeders full of peanuts hanging on a tree just outside the window. The birds all go for the feeder on the right. There are five or six different kinds of small birds eating at the feeders. Chaffinches. Bullfinches. Blue Tits. Robins. Gold Crests. House Sparrows. Wrens. Maybe there are others too. Every single one of them prefers to eat from the green feeder. The feeder on the right has a green plastic top and a fine metal mesh. The one on the left has a metal top and heavier metal mesh. The green cylinder is emptied hours before the metal one is even one third empty. We watch this happening day after day. I brought the metal feeder indoors and emptied it and scrubbed it with hot water. I thought maybe it had been contaminated in some way and since I rarely remember to wash the feeders, I thought this might be as good a time as any to do it. The cleaned metal feeder did not attract more birds. Next, I moved the feeders. I changed their locations on the tree. The green one was hung where the metal one had been and the metal one was hung where the green one had been. I thought I could trick the birds into going to the metal one which was placed where the green one had been. They have paid no attention to my attempt to confuse. They continue to empty the green feeder first. The birds are all choosing the green topped feeder over the metal topped feeder. I wonder if they can see colour and they prefer the faded green to the not very shiny metal. It does not matter. I wanted to feed the birds and the birds are eating. When the green one is empty they will go for the metal one. Or not.

21 December Saturday

Our usual system has fallen asunder. Derek the postman was off work with a bad back so the post all got piled up inside the box instead of being put into the shed which is the norm when we are away. The substitute postman did not know the system, nor did he have the key to the shed since Derek still had that and he was in too much pain to be worrying about passing on our shed key to the man taking over his delivery route. The old tool box which we have been using as a post box let in the rain after too many days of heavy heavy downpour. Half of everything was sitting inside the box and under several inches of water when we found it. It was not a real problem. Most ink is waterproof these days. It was just a matter of drying letters out on the radiator before opening them. An attempt to remedy the problem in anticipation of future torrential rain was to buy a new plastic box which looked good in the Co-op, but it is really a bit light for the job. We have several weights in the bottom so that the wind cannot move it around and then another stone has been placed on top. There is also a piece of wood under the front edge just to tip the box a little to stop a huge and deep lake forming in the cover. There are clips to hold the lid on but if they are not clipped and the wind is ferocious the whole top blows away. Stone and all. This new box is not ideal. Now I am wondering if we should just return to the rusty tool box and hope that there will not be another prolonged period of heavy rain.