The Journal

Erica Van Horn – Living Locally

Category: Uncategorized

Your Own Name

14 May Tuesday

The woman at the desk asked me: “What is your own name, so?” Anywhere else a person asking for my name would be enough. Your Own Name is a kind of double possession. A double descriptor which never fails to surprise me. It should not surprise me any longer but it does.

13 May Monday

I was paying for my milk and newspaper when I felt eyes upon me. I looked to my left and there was Peggy, right beside me, and staring intently at me. The minute I turned towards her, she averted her head sharpish and marched across the shop to the magazines. She picked up a magazine and began flipping through pages rapidly. It was a teen magazine. Peggy has no children and she has no grandchildren. I am certain she has no interest in a teen magazine. It was obvious that she just grabbed the first thing that her hands touched. Peggy has not spoken to me for four or five years. The last time was a phone conversation when she rang and said that she did not want to fall out with me. We spoke on the phone for 45 minutes that day. We parted on good terms. Or I thought we parted on good terms. Since that day she refuses to salute if we pass one another in the car. She does not just fail to salute, she turns her head abruptly and looks away even if she is driving in a forward direction. It is a dangerous kind of head turning while operating a motor car, but she is making a point. In the last two years she has extended the snubbing to Simon. Her problem is with me and not with him, but he is now tainted by association. I wave and I greet her with a smile wherever and whenever we meet. This friendliness on my part has no effect. I have been told by another neighbour that Peggy fell out with the neighbour’s cousin over a jar of jam. That snubbing and feud lasted for twenty years. It only ended when the cousin died.

12 May Sunday

There have been thundering and thumping noises throughout the afternoon. All week there has been silage cutting. After it was cut the grass has been left to dry in piled up lengths through the fields. The fields looked like corduroy. Now machines are racing through the fields and picking up the piles and spitting them into huge trailers. The trailers are huge and blue and they are pulled by blue tractors that rush along beside the grass collecting machines. It is a dangerous time to be on the road or driving through the farmyard as the speed of the activity keeps everything moving at top speed. From here in our valley it sounds like planes on a runway. Sometimes it sounds like thunder. Sometimes it sounds like rumbling traffic from afar. The noises are a shocking change from the usual deep silence.

11 May Saturday

Ned painted his van. He painted it red. It already was red but he repainted it, just to brighten it up. He painted it with some red gloss paint from his shed and he used a paint brush. It is not well done. There are saggy bits where the paint was too heavy and it drooped in kind of sideways puddle. He did not do the small area around the letters on the back of the van because his brush was too big to get in between the letters. Around the chrome letters it is possible to see the old, not glossy red that was the previous colour. The van sat behind him at the Farmers Market as it always does. There was a lot of discussion of his van and his painting skills and not much of any attention paid to wooden bowls for sale on his tables. He got a lot of teasing but he did not seem to mind. I think he enjoyed it.

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Old Linoleum

 

10 May Friday

There is a small piece of printed linoleum outside my work room.  It is old. It might have come from Johnnie Mackin’s house.  It might have come from Tommie Halley’s house. It might have come from some other old house where people had lived but where no one is living any longer. Maybe it was stuck onto the bottom of something and it fell off once it arrived here.  I have had it for a long time already. I keep it on the step. It is not useful for wiping feet. It is not useful for anything. I like the pattern. I think of it as a little welcome mat.

9 May Thursday

Pat flew to Paris on a mission. She went to Paris to buy herself a Hermès scarf. She spent nearly three hours in the store deciding which scarf to buy. She said that the staff were wonderful. She said they had nothing but patience. A friend went with her to help but he was not involved in the final choosing. That was her job alone. The friend stepped outside to have a cigarette break now and then. While smoking, he was able to keep track of the limousines and other fancy cars arriving at the shop. Most of the other customers were wealthy Asians and none of them were traveling alone. Maybe they were with family or perhaps they were with friends. The shop was spacious and well organised. The staff could manage all of the buyers and the entourages who came along with them. The scarf was Pat’s gift to herself for her 60th birthday. It was not a casual decision. It was a special, long-dreamed of and costly purchase. She wanted to get it right. It has been several weeks now but she has not worn the scarf yet. She opens the box on her kitchen table to admire it and to show it to friends. She unfolds the scarf and look at it spread out large. Then she folds it up again and puts it carefully back into the box. She is simply overjoyed to have it here in her house in Tipperary. She has invited me over for a viewing.

8 May Wednesday

The rain bucketed down all night and well into this morning. This soaking is much needed by the farmers and much appreciated by me. It has been cleansing and cleansing is what we need. It is that time of year again. I do not know what causes it or who is the culprit. Is it one type of bird? Or is it all of the birds? Once again the house is covered with lashings of excrement. The car is covered with excrement. Every piece of washing that goes out to the clothesline gets hit. The birds must be flying extremely fast so every splash is long and diagonal and white. What are they eating to make such milky white liquid poop? How fast are they flying to make it all land with such splatter? And why does this last for a few weeks and then, as abruptly as it began, it stops. It just stops. Every year it is like this. It starts and then after about ten days or two weeks, it stops. I have theories about young birds and young digestive systems but these theories are not based on facts.

 

7 May Tuesday

There is a fine looking triangle in the long field. The triangle was dug out and filled with gravel. I guess it is for drainage.

6 May Monday

Election posters have appeared everywhere. I like the variety of suddenly having language in the landscape. The posters are tied onto trees, fences and telephone poles. Some of the posters have the words RECYCLED POSTER along the bottom edge. I assume this means that the candidate has run for office before. It does not look like a new head has been struck onto an old one. Almost every poster has a photograph of a head on it. That is how we know who is who. There are small mobile units with a poster on each side which get moved around the area. Just as we get used to seeing somebody’s face on the little tent device on a particular corner or stretch of road the whole display disappears and is driven off to another location. We might see it in a new place but we might not. We may not drive that way so we may never see it again. I love the element of surprise as these trailers move around the countryside.

5 May Sunday

The black and white farm cat ran across the path in front of me. She had something in her mouth. At first I thought it was a small rabbit. It might have been a shrew but it was big enough to be a rat. Whatever it was, it was not dead. It was struggling hard to be released.

4 May Saturday

Tom used to come to the Farmers Market every Saturday. He did not buy anything at the market but he stood around for an hour or more talking with the various people who had stalls or with the other people who were there for the shopping. He spent most of his time talking with Ned Lonergan who makes things out of wood. Ned makes fine bowls and egg cups and walking sticks from local timber. He and Tom would usually discuss where a tree had fallen recently and who Ned might have to approach to get access to some of the wood. Today we met Tom in the SuperValu car park. We talked for a few minutes and mentioned that we missed seeing him at the market. He said he had stopped going to the market because Eileen does not care to shop at the market. She thinks it is certain to be too dear and that it is a kind of exclusive affair altogether. She says that if you begin to buy from one person you will have to buy from everyone or else you will make enemies. She says the market itself is nothing but a problem and a way to be forced to spend money that you do not have anyway. Eileen never did come to the market for her shopping and Tom only came to meet people and to have some conversation. She has told Tom that it is not right to go there if he is not there to buy things. So now he does not go at all, but he wishes he did.

 


3 May Friday

Tiny calves cluster together in the fields. They are so small that their legs wobble. Their legs are not yet strong. They tumble into one another. They seem too young to be away from their mothers. When Joe arrives with the teat trailer full of their formula they rush and jostle to get a suck. The once bright red teat trailer is now a faded pink. It looks like a miniature fairground carousel. With rubber teats.

1 May Wednesday

It is the first day of May but the nights are still cold. It does not feel like May. I brought in several wheelbarrow loads of firewood just to be ready. I hope we do not need a fire in the evening but the probability is that we will need a fire. My new method for unloading the wheelbarrow is to wheel it right into the house. The old system of armloads or baskets or buckets full from the doorway seems silly now. I wish I had been doing it this way for years.

Passing Blustery Showers

30 April Tuesday

Hay barns everywhere are empty or they are nearly empty. There is not much left to offer to hungry cows. The cattle are mostly out in the fields but when the weather gets bad they disappear back into barns and under the roof for a day or two. It is like this spring cannot decide to settle.

29 April Monday

I am distracted just now by Simon on the phone to FedEx about a parcel pick-up. The person on the other end of the line is somewhere in England. The person does not know where Tipperary is. Simon explains to him or her that Tipperary is in the Republic of Ireland. That does not seem to help. He cannot believe that this person has never heard of Tipperary. He explains that there is even a song about it. He asks if the person has never even heard this song. Now he is singing the song. Simon is singing Its a Long Way to Tipperary over the telephone to the FedEx person in England. I doubt it will help.

28 April Sunday

Large piles of grey stuff have been dumped in various fields. Every time that I see these piles I am startled and I worry that cement has been dumped in someone’s field. I think it is cement because it looks like cement but it is not cement. It is agricultural lime for spreading over pasture fields.

 

27 April Saturday

Friday was really cold. We spent the entire day anticipating the arrival of Storm Hannah. The winds were ferocious well before anything  had even started. The radio advised everyone to stay at home for six hours starting from 6 o’clock. We were also told to stay well out of the way of power lines and falling trees. Some places were given an Amber Warning. Western parts of the country were given a Red Warning. We knew there was a good chance that we would probably lose our electricity. It was a good night to be going nowhere.

By this morning the worst of the storm was over.  The sun was out and it was bright and cold. The winds were still wild. As expected, the west of the country got hit badly as Hannah blew in off the Atlantic. Our local damages were small in comparison. It took us a lot of driving and detouring and backing up and turning around to get to Cahir but we were determined to get to the market. There was a large tree down on the Ardfinnan road. We were told that the tree knocked down the power lines and took out the electricity for most of the village. Big branches and small branches were strewn everywhere. Flower pots and buckets and garden furniture have been blown all over the place. The Castle car park was littered with geraniums and other bedding plants that had blown right out of the soil. Everyone was discussing who had power and who did not have power.  The market stalls were all pushed up against the wall for protection from the wind.

Jim started to tell me about Speedy and Rattles, two brothers who live close to him. Their elderly mother lives not far from the brothers and she lost her electricity last night. Speedy works for the ESB so he knew just where to go and what to do to get his mother’s power back on. He jumped on his bike and sped off into the wind. Jim never finished the story because one of the market tables full of scones and bread and cakes blew down and we all rushed to help to set it back upright and to save the baked goods. I would like to hear the end of the story but until I do I have been enjoying the names Speedy and Rattles in between the Passing Blustery Showers which we were promised.

26 April Friday

The young man told Anthony: “I gave him a Crossbar!” I heard this and I imagined a great whack with an iron bar. I imagined violence and blood. I imagined a hearty beating. I was relieved to be told that Giving A Crossbar was nothing more than providing someone with a sideways seat on the crossbar of a bicycle.

25 April Thursday

It is a fact that when any workman comes to wash his hands at the kitchen sink, he always reaches for the washing-up liquid. The washing-up liquid can be sitting exactly beside the bar of soap but no one ever uses the hand soap.

24 April Wednesday

There is a grey squirrel at the bird feeder. As a result the birds hardly have a chance to get at the nuts. This squirrel has found a way to crawl out onto a thin branch and to balance himself upside down while gnawing at the side of the feeder. This is a new thing. We have never seen grey squirrels here. I thought maybe it was just me who had not noticed them but everyone says the same. And now that we acknowledge them we understand that this is not good news.  It is bad news. The grey squirrel is an invasive species that pushes out the native red squirrels by eating the same things as the red squirrels but eating them before the red squirrels can digest them properly and by bringing diseases which eventually kill off the red squirrel population. Grey squirrels are not native. They were brought to Ireland from England and have spread slowly throughout the entire country. They are almost everywhere but not quite everywhere yet. 100 years ago, six pairs of grey squirrels were brought to a castle in County Longford as a wedding gift. It is difficult to imagine someone thinking that twelve grey squirrels would make the perfect wedding present.

23 April Tuesday

It is sometimes hard to tell people who do not live in the country how much death there is out here. Last night I woke to the sounds of a screaming struggle just under the bedroom window. There was a final high-pitched shriek followed by complete silence. A fox had killed a rabbit. These are familiar noises. I am sorry that I know these sounds so well. The shrieking makes my heart race with fear and with helplessness. The rabbit cannot help what is happening to her and I can do nothing at all to help. Even hearing the sounds means that it is already too late. There was no sign of the struggle in the morning. Instead, I found a dead mouse in the book barn. He was caught in a trap under the table. His body was swollen and smelly. This was not a recent death. Just outside and near the door I found a dead bird. Some other creature had torn the front of the bird open and ripped out his organs. There were feathers everywhere. I walked up the path later and found a tiny rabbit with its head bitten off. I expected to see the head further along the path but I did not. There is not always so much death visible in one day. In between all the corpses, I am finding many broken eggs of varying shades of blue. Thrush eggs  and blackbird eggs and probably others I am not able to name. Young birds are popping out everywhere. The pieces of shell and the sky filled with birdsong make all of the death seem less grim.

A Roundy Birthday

22 April Bank Holiday Monday

The fox was zig-zagging up the field. He wandered a bit to the left and then he wandered a bit to the right. He was always heading uphill but he did so in a desultory manner. He was in no rush to get anywhere. He moved slowly while looking around. He did not notice me beside the fence or maybe he did notice me but he did not worry about me because he had the advantage of four legs. I was close but not close enough to be a threat. This is the same fox I have seen every single day this week. Most days I have come upon him when walking down the boreen. I always see him at the same corner. He sees me and he jumps up the banking and away into Scully’s wood when I approach. This fox is young and shiny with a dark orangey-brown coat and a dark brown tail. I have no proof but I feel certain that this fox is a male fox.

21 April Easter Sunday

We met Tommie outside the shop. I thought he would be going to an Easter Mass either in the village or in Fourmilewater, but he said he was going into town to visit Margaret in hospital. He said that she has been there for three weeks already. The doctors cannot determine what is wrong with her. She felt dizzy while she was having her hair done at The Hair Den. The hairdresser called the ambulance and Margaret was taken away and ever since then he has been visiting her every day. He did not seem unduly upset. He has had a difficult time taking care of her at home because she is blind and mostly deaf and she cannot move around easily. She had a broken hip and even though the hip is healed, it has never been right. He said that it will never be right. Tommie says that he spends a lot of time shouting at Margaret when they are at home together but since she cannot hear much of what he says she does not notice that he is shouting and he just gets more and more angry. These three weeks have been like a holiday for him. He was in cheerful mood this morning. He was wearing a sweater tucked into his high belted trousers. The sweater and the trousers were covered in food spills. He looked down and said that if he were going to Mass he might change his clothes and put on a jacket but he said Margaret will not see what he is wearing and anyway he will be sitting down all the time that he is in the hospital visiting her. He lowered his voice when he told us that each day they give him his dinner on a tray while Margaret gets her dinner. He was looking forward to a special feed today since it is Easter.

20 April Saturday

Ter is a common nickname. It might be short for Teresa, or it might be for Terence.

Ger might be short for Geraldine, or for Gerard or for Gerald. It might even be for Jerome, but then it would be spelled with a J even though the pronunciation would be the same.

Phil can be short for Philomena or it might be for Philip.

Pa is shortened from Pascal, or sometimes from Patrick.

Pa is never used as a name for Father.

19 April Friday

Niamh explained The Nun’s Embrace to me. Or she tried to explain it but then she had to do it to me to show me because she could not explain it and now I can not explain it either but it is a kind of gently pulling the person with one arm while pulling stronger with the other arm. It is not a hug and not an embrace but it is a two-armed pull not really a hug and traditionally a way for the person being embraced by the nun to have no doubt that the nun is the one is charge.

18 April Thursday

The waitress told the people at the next table that they did not take any credit cards in the restaurant and that they would need to pay for their lunch with cash. She thought she should warn them before they ordered their food. The man was foreign. Maybe he was Dutch. He said he had no cash. The woman with him had no cash either. The man said he would go immediately to find a cash machine. The waitress said, Oh, there is no rush for money. Order your food and have yourself a good feed and then you can go out and look for some cash. There is a machine out on the main street. She said, Why they might even give you some money up at the petrol station.

17 April Wednesday

Any birthday that ends in a zero is called A Roundy Birthday.

16 April Tuesday

Today was the first day this year that the cows arrived in the near field. Maybe it was not the first day but it was the first time I have seen them in this field so for me it was the first day. I was in the book barn when they came rushing over the hill. They ran and jostled one another. The long winter days and weeks under cover mean that each new field marks a joyful adventure. They have been out in some other pastures before today, but today was the first day in this particular field which is their geographically-furthest-from-the-farm field. The cows pushed and rushed at each other and ate bits of grass erratically from all over the place and they lined up and looked in the window at me and then they all lay down at the same time. They stayed laying down for about twenty minutes and then they all got up and ran back over the hill and out of sight.

The Borrowing Days

13 April Saturday

The wind is brutal.  The wind is unrelenting. Every time I think of something that I might do out of doors, I change my mind. Instead I find myself something more to do in the house.  I do not want to even walk across to the barns. The light is inviting but the wind is wicked. The birds have disappeared. They cannot land on the feeders. The wind gusts and drops and gusts and drops. The sounds of buffeting and blowing are constant. It is difficult to remember life without this wind.

12 April Friday

The weather continues to be changeable. It should not be a surprise anymore but it is. Each morning starts cold and bright and bitter. It might rain. It might get warm. There might be sleet. The winds are ferocious in turns. Then there will be something else or there will be a repeat of some sort of weather that occurred earlier. There is no way to be prepared for what might come next. Tommie says that the weather is In And Out Faster Than A Fiddlers Elbow.

11 April Thursday

The woman was clutching a piece of paper in her hand. It was windy. She was holding it tight so that it would not blow away. She was a bit bent over and moving in a sideways direction even while she was going straight ahead. She walked over to me on the pavement in Thurles. I assumed she was going to ask me how to get somewhere. I do not know Thurles well so I was prepared to tell her that I could not direct her to wherever she was going. She did not ask for directions. Instead she stood up tall right in front of me and said, “I’d be very short of The Money.” I watched her continuing around the square approaching various people. Each time she said the exact same words: “I’d be very short of The Money.”  She kept the piece of paper in her hand. I guess it was a prop so that each person would think that she was in need of directions, and not just asking for The Money.

10 April Wednesday

The doorway at Clonfert Cathedral was well worth the detour. It is not a large building but nevertheless it is called a cathedral.  It is more like a small chapel with an amazing entrance. The Romanesque carving offers an fine variety of animal heads, motifs, foliage and human heads. We were unable to go inside as a woman in the nearby house holds the key and she had gone out to do her shopping.  The farmer in an adjoining field directed us to her door but he said that he had no way of knowing when she might return.

Raggy Trees appear here and there around the country. They are also called Wishing Trees.  There is always more than one name for anything. People use the trees to make wishes or as a form of prayer to get something they need or want. They make an offering in order to pass an exam, to get a job, to regain health or just generally to ask for good fortune. The tradition is that one should return to the tree three times with a request to ensure that the wish or prayer will come to pass.  I do not know what makes one tree into a Raggy Tree and another nearby tree just a regular tree. How does its power become established?  St Brendan’s Tree, just through the little gate beside the cathedral, is a horse chestnut tree. Maybe proximity to the cathedral is enough to have given this tree it’s magic. It is a real mess. Perhaps it is a mess because a lot of the offerings have been there all winter. They have been rained upon and the wind has beaten them. There are coins hammered sideways into the bark of the tree and lots of rosary beads and caps and photographs and toys and packets of pills and bits of fabric. Things are hanging off the tree and things are strewn all over the ground. For some reason there are a lot of socks. A LOT of socks. Pairs of socks and single socks. Maybe socks are the easiest thing to tie onto the tree.

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8 April Monday

The two woodcutters who have been felling the ash trees for hurleys were back at the edge of Cooney’s wood today. They were loading up some of the sections they had cut. They put a few into the front end of their van and when I walked by they were putting a few more into the back of the van. I did not stay long enough to see if they would fill up the entire space. One man had a long beard and he did not talk at all. The other man talked enough for the both of them. He told me that some trees are thick enough to make as many as five hurleys, but that two per tree is more normal. This man had been to cut ash trees in Romania and Massachusetts and England. He said that ash trees everywhere have been hit by a disease and soon there will be no more of them to harvest. He does not know where future hurleys will come from when all of the ash trees are dead. He said he is worried for the future of hurleys but at least he won’t be out of a job because by then he will be sitting at home and collecting his pension. The job ahead of the men in the next days and weeks is to slowly drag out the rest of the hurley wood, and then get back into the forest to cut everything else up for firewood.

7 April Sunday

Dead shrew on the mat outside the kitchen door. Dead bird outside the door of the book barn. At first look, the bird seemed like it might be simply stunned, but it was dead.  The shrew had a big bite taken out of its side.

6 April Saturday

A busload of German tourists arrived at Cahir Castle. They walked over to the gate but they were not allowed to go in. There were security men at the gate. This is not normal. There were more security men around the back in Inch Field. The men were wearing high visibility jackets and they were turning away anyone who approached the castle. The tourists were confused and some were a little angry. They all took photographs of themselves in front of the castle. They took photographs of themselves with the geese and without the geese. They wandered around for a little while and then they all got back on the bus. They were all grumbling. No one at the farmers market seemed certain about what was going on at the Castle. Someone said that maybe there was an important dignitary inside and they needed protection. Someone else said they were in there filming an advertisement for a car. I walked over to one of the security men and asked. He said that they were filming a scene for a movie. He said that they needed a castle and this castle was as good as any and better than most for the purpose. He said it might be Walt Disney who was making the movie or it might be someone else.

5 April Friday

The starlings are back and they are busy building nests in the roof of the book barn. A wren is building a nest in the yew hedge. We watch her from the kitchen window. She is busily taking twigs and things into the private place she has found. All of her movements are full of purpose. We cannot see the nest but we can see that she is very busy. I have been busy too. I am sewing up the sections of a book with red thread. This morning I noticed that the wren has collected my tiny off-cuts of red thread from the compost heap to use in her nest. She dropped a few strands on her way into the hedge. Now her entrance is brightly signposted.

4 April Thursday

The Skinning of The Old Cow. The Irish expression for this is Seannrioch or Seanriabhach. It is used to describe these first seven or ten days of April. Some people say seven days while others swear that it is always ten days. The expression comes from the idea that everyone expects April to be warmer and good and nurturing but in fact it rarely is. It is more normal for April to have borrowed some days from March to continue with the bitter, wild and harsh weather.  These days are also called The Borrowing Days. Hay supplies have run down in the sheds and some of hay barns are completely empty, while the grass in the fields is not really long enough to feed the cattle. There has been no rain. The word April implies springtime but the actuality is much more haphazard. There is wind and there is the sharp, desperate chill. These are thin days for eating and they are colder than any of us would like.

3 April Wednesday

I attended the coffee morning at the Community Hall in Grange. It is a newish event planned to take place on the first Wednesday of each month. Since Frank’s shop closed down there is less and less opportunity for people who live in Grange to ever catch sight of one another. The entire hall was set up with tables and chairs in little groups. It looked like they might be expecting as many as 60 or 80 people. There was easily enough food for 60 people. There were heaped up plates of scones and there were seven different kinds of jam, along with butter and margarine, and brownies and biscuits and flapjacks and all kinds of home-baked goods. For 2 euro you could eat as much as you liked and you could drink coffee and tea for the whole two hours if you wanted to. There were not 60 people in the hall. There were more like 16, not counting the ones who had done the work of setting it up. I saw some people I knew and I met a few people I had never met before. The older people were firstly interested to know where anyone they were introduced to lived. They needed to locate the person in the landscape of the townland. I explained to one elderly man that I lived in Willie English’s old cottage, just down the boreen from Johnny Mackin. He was delighted at the information that I lived below the late Johnny Mackin. He was not interested to know another thing about me. He was happy to tell me what he knew. He said Johnny was not like any other man in all of Tipperary. He said that to have been Johnny’s neighbour was a good bit of luck.  He told the small group of people near to the cake table where we were standing several stories about Johnny. He said it was a known fact that The Man Had Buckets of Brains.

A Low-Sized Woman

2 April Tuesday

I set off for a walk this afternoon in the bright cold. There was a sharp wind. It felt chilly for April. I was not worried about the wind because I knew that once I started to move I would warm myself. Nor was I bothered about the wind because I was wearing a wool hat, gloves and a jacket. I was surprised to see snow across the tops of the Knockmealdowns. After less than a kilometre, clouds appeared and the sky went completely dark. Sleet lashed down on me. I turned around, walking straight into the downpour heading for home. I was frozen solid by the time I arrived and by then the sun was back out and the sky was blue.

1 April Monday

Two older women were talking. The first woman was a little confused. She could not remember the name of a lady she was making reference to so she attempted to describe the woman’s appearance. She hoped if she could describe the woman well enough the woman she was talking to would recognise her and provide her with the name she had forgotten. She was unable to offer much by way of description. She said, “You’d know her yourself. She is A Low-Sized Woman.”

31 March Sunday

It is a small field with ten or twelve sheep in it. The lower half of the gate is cluttered with clumps of wool. The gate has a wire mesh fence attached to it so that the sheep cannot slip underneath. It looks as if some of the sheep tried to squeeze through the fence and their wool was pulled off them by the wires. Or it is as if the wool has blown off the sheep and the wind has dashed it all against the fence and the gate. Only one of the sheep looks scruffy as though she has lost clumps of wool. The others are fat and fluffy and do not look like anything is missing.

30 March Saturday

I saw Mary at the market. I had not seen her since before Christmas. She was looking distressed and confused and then she straightened up and announced to no one in particular because no one was standing very near to her, “It’s in the car. I left my stick in the car. It is okay. I have not lost it. My stick is in the motor.” I offered to go and collect her stick for her but she declined. She was happy enough just to know where it was. Mary’s husband never gets out of the car. He drives as close to the market stalls as he can get and he sits in the car and waits for Mary to do her shopping and have her conversations. He never seems impatient. He just waits for Mary while he stares straight ahead through the windscreen. Maybe he is listening the radio. As for Mary, she was looking well. She looked like herself only much thinner. I think perhaps the winter has been hard on her. Her coat was the same winter coat as she always wears. It is the very end of March but it is still cold enough to need a winter coat. The coat looked enormous on Mary, but the coat is the same size as it always was. The coat is big and she is not.

 

29 March Friday

The wild garlic is everywhere. It tastes like spring and it smells like spring when I walk through it.

28 March Thursday

I needed to get the saw and cut some branches down near the stream before I could walk up the path. A few trees and branches had toppled in and over the stream and over the path. I was not in the mood to crawl through the mud to go underneath them. It was the cutting of the timber in Tom Cooney’s forestry that had caused the trees to fall into one another and knock some others down. The men who were doing the felling had come down the Mass Path from the top on a Quad bike. The normal single track now looks like a road. A muddy road. The men are not just cutting trees for firewood, they are felling ash trees for hurleys. PJ explained part of it to me. The trees are cut about one and a half metres from the ground. In order to do that other trees have to be cleared all around the desired ash tree. Then the bottom of the tree is cut as low into the roots as possible. This cutting is done with a series of cuts to allow for the curve. The cutting goes almost under the ground. The strange looking stump left after the felling is called a hurley butt. A finished hurley has a curve at the end of it and the curve has to already be a part of the natural flare at the bottom of the tree. First a curve and then straight up. The stick is kind of like a hockey stick but it is rounder, maybe fatter, and shorter. Ash wood is both strong and flexible and apparently it is the only wood that makes a proper hurley. I understand very little about hurleys. I understand very little about the game of hurling. The game is so popular that there is a need for at least 400,000 new hurleys each year. The rest of the ground around where these trees have been carved out looks like a massacre.

27 March Wednesday

Annie shouted hello across the wall. She declared that she was far too busy from one end of the day to the other. She blamed the longer days and the extra light. She said, “I haven’t the time to bless myself!

Daily Bread.

25 March Monday

The bread man was delivering at O’Dwyers. Both of the back doors were open. There was plywood fitted inside the back windows with charts telling how to store and to locate the bread in the back of the van. I guess each side of the van demands a separate stocking system.

24 March Sunday

Breda announced that she was a real Go The Road.  I was not exactly sure what she meant. I felt I had to ask. She told me that it just meant she was busy all the time and all of her busy-ness involved Going. She was always going somewhere by car and never ever staying home. I liked the fact that a Go The Road was a name for a person and not simply an action.

23 March Saturday

We had porridge in the café. We were sitting upstairs where there was only one other woman sitting at the far end by herself. Other than that the place was empty. A second woman came heavily up the stairs with a cup and saucer rattling in her hand.
She shouted across the room, “Oh, Margaret! It is good to see you!” Actually she did not shout, she just used her voice in what was probably her normal way which was extremely loud. Her voice boomed. She made the entire upstairs of the café into her own place. We immediately felt like extras as she and Margaret settled in to talk and catch up on things.

22 March Friday

Yesterday was the vernal equinox and we were promised a full moon. Before bed, I went out out to look at the moon. There was no moon to be seen. Solid cloud cover blocked out all the stars and the moon. I walked down through the meadow taking the route I always used to walk with Em. I did not feel frightened to be walking alone in the dark, but I did wish that Em were with me or at least that she was off barking in the darkness and that she would be back beside me soon. I did not feel frightened but I felt lonely. I felt my isolation. I felt the deep silence surrounding me. The darkness was complete. I could just barely discern the whiteness of the birch trees at the bottom of the path. When a moon is full and bright there are usually shadows on the land. Last night there were no shadows.

21 March Thursday

Ned arrived early and un-announced with a delivery of heating fuel. He usually rings to say that he is coming. He needs to let us know because someone needs to be at home when he comes so that he can plug the generator in through the window. A regular oil truck will not deliver down this boreen. A normal oil truck is too large to drive down here. We have to have our fuel delivered in a small truck with its own generator for pumping. If no one is here when he arrives, Ned’s trip is wasted and he has to take his fuel all the way back to Piltown.

He quickly explained that the reason that he was so early and un-announced was because he had had to rush into Lidl right away this morning. They were having a special on protective helmets with drop-down face visors and sound-muffling ear protectors. The price was only 20 euro and he knew full well they would be popular. He knew they would be Flying Out The Door.  The advertisement had said the helmets would be in-store from Monday morning, so he rushed along in order not to miss getting one. The store opened at 8 am and he was there waiting, with our oil in a big plastic tank on his truck, at a quarter to eight. He was not the only one. There were six or seven other men waiting. They were all waiting for the helmets.  The men stood at the door and discussed the high quality of these German tools and work products. They all agreed it would be a crime to miss out on such a bargain. Ned was so impressed with the helmets when he saw them that he bought three instead of the one he had come for. He pointed into his truck window to show them to me. There were two on the floor and one on the seat beside him.

I was still wearing my bathrobe when he arrived, so he told me to give him my car keys so that he could move the car and get his truck into position near to the oil tank. When the tank was full, we all had tea and biscuits while Ned further explained the various merits of the new helmets for outdoor work. Before he left, he loaded up the old cast-iron bathtub that we had moved outdoors in September. It has been siting out there ever since. The oil truck had a hydraulic lift on the back. That made it possible for him to get the tub up and into the truck.  I was sorry to see it go but glad it has found a new function. He was taking it for his brother to use as a watering trough for the cows.

Before he drove away, Ned patted the boxed helmet on the seat beside him. He said, “It has been a grand day already and it is early yet.”

19 March Tuesday

The smell of slurry is everywhere. The acrid burning smell makes me gag.  Lingering outside is not pleasant. Lingering outside is not possible. Daffodils are in bloom. There are primroses all down the boreen. I want to be looking at everything and savoring the springtime but I shall have to wait for another day.

———————
20 February Wednesday

Oscar took a turn in the night. He was taken to the vet but it was all too late. I was saddened, but not surprised to receive this news. I am more  surprised that he lasted so long after his stroke. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to know dear Oscar. To have walked with him and to have had him visiting on his own irregular regular basis. He was gentle and loyal and undemanding. His absence is a loss for the whole neighborhood.

This particular kind of dog is disappearing from the lanes of the countryside. These are the dogs who walk out and visit somewhere maybe several miles away and maybe for all day, but they always go home again because they know where they belong and they know where they are fed.  These are the dogs who walk only along the very edge of the road where the grass and the soil meet the tarmac. They do not walk in the middle of the road. It is no doubt a little softer for their feet just there along the verge and, anyway, they are well aware that they need to be safely out of the way of motorcars and tractors. Oscar did have an unusual habit of stetching out across the road in one particular place in front of The White Cottage, but even if he was sound asleep he could be seen by anyone driving along from either direction. His death was not a result of being run over. He died because he was old and tired and unwell.

Buns for Norman Chicken.

31 January Thursday

The days are getting longer. They are getting longer and lighter. It is a constant topic of conversation. We no long speak of the longer days by saying that there is A Stretch In It. We are well past that. The first of February is considered the first day of spring even though in my mind it is not really spring. Weather-wise it is not even vaguely spring, but here it is the day that is officially considered the First Day of Spring. Every year this surprises me. It should not surprise me any longer. The first of February is the First Day of Spring. Every single year, the first day of February is the First Day of Spring. This morning Johnnie reminded me that tomorrow is the First Day of Spring. He said, “It won’t be long before you can eat your dinner by the light of day.”

29 January Tuesday

I am always pleased to find a lost shopping list. I like the sort of eavesdropping effect of reading what somebody else intends to purchase.
Yesterday I found a small piece of cardboard.  The list read:

Rolls/TV Guide
Buns for
Norman.
Chicken.

I spent the rest of the day speaking about Buns For Norman Chicken. I repeated it over and over again. It became a little chant. Buns for Norman Chicken! I was delighted with the name Norman Chicken. I woke up happy with the name Norman Chicken on my tongue. Now I see that Norman Chicken is neither a person nor a recipe. Buns For Norman was one thing. And then there was Chicken.

28 January Monday

I was not sitting very near to the door, but I was sitting near enough to the door to be visible to anyone going out or coming in. As I looked up from my coffee, I saw Paul on his way out the door. He was chatting with another man and he left without me saying hello to him nor him saying hello to me. A few seconds after the door closed, he opened it again, and stuck his head in.  He said, “Hello there! I didn’t see you till I saw you!”

26 January Saturday

The clock on the library building in Cahir has been repaired and replaced. For about a year or maybe longer there has been a piece of black plastic in the rectangular space where the clock used to be. I wondered if the clock would ever return. I worried about it. Now it is back. I do not know exactly when it disappeared and I do not know exactly when it returned.

24 January Thursday

Some people do it and some people do not do it. It does not seem to be a spoken quirk from one specific county.  Or I cannot tell if it is something that belongs to a particular place. I just hear it sometimes and sometimes I do not hear it. I think it is more like a kind of a lisp or speech defect. Or maybe it is a pronunciation thing from the Irish language. It is the saying of a T instead of a TH, usually at the beginning of a word. When people say T instead of TH, the entire meaning of the word they are saying can be different.

The two lads were sitting behind me on the bus. We were going to Cork and they were going to Cork. One of them spoke of TICK TIES. He said it once and then he said it again. I had not been listening to their conversation but these two words were repeated again and again. I could not understand the words so I had to listen in order to put them into context. It was a bit like hearing a few words that I do understand in the midst of a sentence in a foreign language. The familiar words make the rest of the conversation kind of public business. I think this was the same kind of situation.

Eventually I understood that TICK TIES was actually THICK THIGHS. It was THICK THIGHS with the T sound replacing the TH sound. The lad doing most of the talking was discussing his three years in Australia. The other lad was on his way to Australia so the first one was telling him what to expect and what problems might be encountered. Apparently a major issue down there is that the legs of Irish men are not like the legs of Australian men. The buying of a new pair of jeans is a real and pressing problem if you are the kind of lad with Thick Thighs. Apparently these two lads are both the kind of lads with Thick Thighs. Many Irish lads have Thick Thighs and the Australians do not have the same kind of leg shape so their blue jeans are made to fit their body type. These jeans are not comfortable for an Irish lad’s legs. In fact they are impossible for the majority of Irish legs.

And anyway, the Australian jeans are too long. Even the shortest length is too long. The first fellow had located a website that sold blue jeans for the Irish expatriate audience. The jeans were cut wider in the thighs and shorter in the leg and they were just as good as what you could buy right here at home. It was easier to use the website than it was to ask your mother to go and shop for you and post you a pair of jeans. The instructing lad ended this portion of the conversation by saying, “After all, she is your Mam. She would only be after thinking that you could not take care of yourself without her help.”

23 January Wednesday

I spent two hours in the cold barn undoing clumps of bubble wrap this afternoon. I collect it from the vet’s office in Cahir. They keep it crammed behind a shelving unit until it gets to be too much. When I need a fresh supply for wrapping book parcels, I ring and they tell me if they have any or not. Sometimes it has already gone off to the recycling. Two weeks ago, I got a three enormous rubbish bags crammed full. The vet’s office is happy to pass the bubble on to me as they consider that recycling it via me is superior to recycling it to the council. Today I spent the time pulling off strips of sello tape and flattening out the pieces. It is a job I avoid for as long as possible. There is always something more interesting to do. Sometimes the tape rips the plastic but sometimes I can get it off smoothly and I end up with huge great pieces to fold up and put away for use later. I listened to the radio while I was working which distracted me from the cold. As always, I marveled that a veterinary practice receives so many things in bottles and containers that need careful padding with bubble wrap. I did not get through all three of the bags before the cold in the barn drove me back up to the house. A good supply is now ready for use so I feel wealthy and ready for any package that might need to be packed.

22 January Tuesday

My collection of lichen up the boreen is getting bigger but not as quickly as I had hoped. I think I thought it expected that it would grow and grow. I think I hoped it would be so large that it would need to be detoured around.  That it would be impossible not to see it as one walked along. It is still quite a small amount. I am surprised that neither the wind nor a dog or a boot has displaced the little pile. I showed it to PJ one day when I met him and his dog Walker. I suggested that if he finds any clumps of lichen, he is more than welcome to add to the collection. I was trying to let him know that it was not just my pile. Anyone else could add lichen. I do not think he was very interested but he was polite about it.

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.

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.