Post Office Petitions

9 September Sunday

A Church Gate Collection is a frequent event. Ordinarily two people station themselves at both entrances to a church yard or they have one person standing on either side of the gate if there is just one entry gate. These people are collecting for some worthy event or charity. This morning I went alone to Grange church to collect signatures for the Newcastle Post Office petition. I was not collecting money but names. I had never done this before. I got there early to be ready. I arrived at 9.30 for the 10 o’clock mass. The first person to arrive was the priest. I introduced myself and explained to him that I had rung the office on Friday to get permission to be there. My committee insisted that it is was only right to ask permission from the priest. He asked what I was collecting for and when I explained, he waved his hand in the air and said he was fine with All That. The person in the parish office had told me that he is a temporary priest while the regular priest is on sabbatical. The priest did not sign my petition. It was silly for me to attempt this job by myself. Everyone arrived sort of at the same time but by two different gates. I was running back and forth trying to catch everyone. I had four clipboards. Each one had a pen attached to it with red garden twine. I had a little table with another pen and more pages. I had a small sign on the table. My sign kept blowing over as it was a breezy morning. One woman said she would think about it, but everyone else signed with alacrity, if not with much hope. Grange has not had a post office for several years already ever since the branch in Frank’s shop closed. Everyone feels the absence of both the post office and of Frank’s shop. I got a lot of signatures but I did not get every single person. Some headed straight for the side doors. Apparently everyone has a regular route into the church and a regular place where they sit every week. By the time everyone arrived and entered the church there was nothing left for me to do. There were no more people. Everyone who wanted to attend mass was inside the church. Everyone else was at home. I loaded my table and my clipboards into the car. From my arrival to my departure, it was all over in 40 minutes.

8 September Saturday

It was lovely to wake up this morning after the heavy all night rain. The fields have that glowing almost florescent green colour that is nearly garish. It is a bright bright green that I never see anywhere else. We have not seen it for months and months. We have not seen it all summer.

7 September Friday

I am still dropping petitions in to various places. The conversations with each drop-off are animated. Today I attempted to leave some at the house of the hairdresser in Goatenbridge. She has no sign at her house but I was told that her name is Colette and that her house is the last one on the right before the duck pond. I could not find anyone at home nor anyone to ask so I went for a walk around the duck pond. It is a short circuit. Then I went off climbing the forestry paths for an hour and a half. On my return, there was still no one at the hairdresser’s house, if the house I had located was indeed the correct house. I went to the Glenview Lounge which is the only other business with a public face in Goatenbridge. The car park there has a glorious view over the valley and straight up the mountains and the glen. I could not believe how stunning it was. I could not believe I had never been there before. As soon as you enter the bar there is no view of the mountains. The outside does not exist when you are inside. There were two doors to enter. One door was labeled Lounge and the other door had no sign. I went into the Lounge. I was greeted by an older woman who was sitting at a table having a cup of tea from one of those shiny metal teapots. I explained my mission and she said that many people from Newcastle come over to Goatenbridge regularly to play cards. She said the villages have close connections. She called to a man behind the bar to take some petitions from me. He might have been her son. The bar was in the center so he could serve both the lounge and the other room from the one location. The woman said the post office in Newcastle was especially important since Goatenbridge has no post office itself. No post office. No shop. Just the bar. I wanted to tell them that Rose in the bar in Newcastle has been asking people to sign the petition before she will even serve them a drink. But I did not mention that. I just thanked them both and went back out to the amazing view.

 

6 September Thursday

Walking in the same tracks and fields every day offers a restful quality. There is plenty to observe in small changes. There is  plenty of time to think. I find it a surprise and a delight to find language in the landscape. There is a sign in the ditch on the way home. It is a notice for planning permission. Joe is seeking permission to build an underpass for his cows so that they can cross the road by themselves when they have been milked and they are on the way back to their current grazing place. Most of Joe’s fields are on the other side of the road from where his barns and his milking set-up are. The cows can only go so far and then they have to wait for him to finish the milking and come out to get them and open the gates so that they can cross the road. This underpass system for the cows is new to me. Apparently it is becoming very popular with farmers. The little notice for planning permission was not only a little something to read in the landscape but it is a whole new concept.  It is something to look forward to.

Almost all of the fields around have new concrete watering troughs scattered about in them. It looks like every farmer has these new troughs which are much heavier than the usual blue or black plastic ones of recent years. Maybe these last longer. Joe Keating is the only one whose new troughs have language on them. The name of the firm who makes and sells them and their phone number is spray stenciled on the side of each trough with red paint. It is an exciting thing to see and to read in the middle of green pastures.

4 September Tuesday

Every time I leave the Post Office petitions somewhere I get into conversations about the difficulties and possibilities and practicalities of saving our Post Office. Several times every day I am told yet another version of the man down in County Cork who runs a tiny post office in a tiny tiny village. Sometimes as the story is repeated, the man is 82 and sometimes he is 85. Once he was 87. He is determined to keep his post office open even though he is too old for the job. He would like to retire but he knows An Post will use his retirement as an excuse to close the post office. He is a national hero. Each time the story is retold, people feel more and more proud of this stubborn elderly Postmaster.

3 September Monday

The man working in the grounds of the church offered to show me around. He said he had just started to work for the church the week before. He was proud of the small church. He found it very special and beautiful. The church was a Church of Ireland which he reminded me was for Protestants. He said that he himself was a Catholic but he said the people in charge did not seem to mind about that since they gave him the job anyway.

 

2 September Sunday

There are grain spills everywhere. There are big grain spills and there are small grain spills. Tractors rush around trying to bring in as much of the harvest from this difficult dry season as they can.  The roads are dangerous with the speed and the size of the machinery. The spilled grain always looks good in sunlight.

1 September Saturday

I am a naturally parsimonious person. I do not like waste. When the toothpaste is getting difficult to squeeze out of the toothpaste tube, I cut the tube off with a pair of scissors. I cut close to the end with the screw top. I then scrape any remaining toothpaste into that end. I stand the cut-off tube on its top and I place a water glass over the whole thing. The glass keeps out any dust and insects. When we want some toothpaste we dip the bristles of the toothbrush into the remaining paste. There is usually at least a week’s worth of toothpaste for two people still in the tube. I like making this little apparatus for using up all of the toothpaste. I like using the dipping method. It is just as well that I did not mention that the glass over the top is also a way to ensure the slugs cannot get in. Last night I found a slug under the glass. It was not in the toothpaste but it was curled around the screw top. I am now in the position of having to reconsider this method.

31 August Friday

The Eircom man came down into the yard in a big white van. He stayed in the van and talked down to me out the window. He said he was out testing the poles. He was surprised to find us at the end of the boreen. He had no idea that there was a house down here and he had no idea there were so many more poles that would need to be tested. What he thought might be a morning job was now an all day job or maybe a two day job. While he was talking to me he saw a movement on the stone wall. His voice dropped to a whisper and he asked “What is that? Over there on the wall —What is it?” It was the mink rushing and leaping across the wall with its very fluid body movements. The man was not breathing. He was excited. He said he had never seen such a thing.

The Bottoms

30 August Thursday

I am wrong again. I was certain that the name Haulie was the nickname for a man who moved whatever people needed moved.  He moved things like hay, silage, topsoil or stones with his tractor or his truck. I had no doubt that Haulie’s name came from his occupation. Peter has now informed me that Haulie is a nickname that comes from the Irish name Mícheál. The name is pronounced MEE-HAUL. MEE-HAUL to Haulie a logical development.

29 August Wednesday

It is still August but already the mornings are wet. The evenings are cool and the nights are cold so the mornings are wet with dew. Stepping outside to collect the breakfast raspberries is a different job than it was even a few days ago. Every morning I slip on my Wellington boots and go out with my bowl. Sometimes I take a cup of tea with me. Each time I reach in and underneath the leaves to take a berry my sleeve gets wet. Then the sleeve gets wetter. My dressing gown soaks up the water like a sponge.
I could gather my breakfast fruit in the evening or afternoon. I could collect a bowl of both raspberries and blackberries and they would be dry and I would be dry and breakfast would be a different breakfast.

27 August Monday

The Post Office committee is silent. I had a long talk with John. He explained the path of closures: Tooraneena is to close. Ballymacarbery is to stay open. Newcastle is to close. Ardfinnan is to stay open. Clogheen is to close and Ballyporeen is to stay open. It is a straight but wiggly line. It continues throughout the entire country like this. There are 400 post offices slated for closure. If the postmistress or postmaster retires or dies there is an immediate death sentence for that Post Office. No one is allowed to take over a Post Office. No rescues are considered.The couple in Tooraneena who have been running both the post office and the pub out of their house are now 70 years old. They want to retire. No one in their family wants to take over the job anyway. The village is tiny. No post office in any of these villages means quite a drive for anyone who lives there to get their pension or dog license or to pay their bills or anything else. This is a huge problem for people who do not drive. There is little or no public transportation to accommodate this problem.

26 August Sunday

I have always called the Keatings’ pasture the low meadow or the water meadow because it is the lowest piece of land in our immediate view. It has the stream running along one side of it. In very wet seasons the whole place is soggy because water runs downhill from both sides and it all settles there. Now I am told this is not called a water meadow. Nor is it a low meadow. This kind of field is called The Bottoms.

25 August Saturday

The hedgerows are heavy blackberries. They are full of blackberries and full of honeysuckle. The blackberries do not seem to have slowed down with the lack of water this summer. Long tendrils of brambles reach out and grab at me when I walk or drive by. I spent an hour walking up one side of the boreen and down the other side. I clipped off the long thorny bushes which were the grabbing ones. In between clipping I ate a lot of berries. There are many different kinds. Someone told me that we have 30 different kinds of blackberry variations growing. I do not know if there really are that many but there are a lot. Most of them are plump and sweet. Every so often I eat a desperately sour one by mistake. I was happily picking and eating and clipping when I heard a terrible screech just on the other side of the ditch. One of the scruffy farm cats came bursting through the bushes and smashed into me. She was startled and I was startled. We both made squawking noises at the moment of impact. She took off at speed. I continued picking and eating and clipping my way towards home.

24 August Friday

An elderly couple came into the shop. The girl at the counter ran around the place and collected the things they needed. The woman announced each item one at a time. Both the man and the woman were badly bent over. They both leaned heavily on their sticks. The woman was the worst. Her head was bent down well into her chest and her back was bent over too. Without the help of her stick, she would be unable to stand. She would just fall over. It was difficult to hear her voice because she was sort of talking down into herself. She could not project her voice any better. She said something into her chest and then the man repeated it. He said, “Did you say you wanted The Milk, Mary?” And then he repeated that to the girl at the counter. He said, “Mary wants The Milk so.” The girl ran to collect it. It was taking a long time to get all of the things but the girl was willing and eager to help. She was cheerful the whole while. When they finished with the edible items, the man said that Mary wanted a mop. The girl asked Mary if she wanted the Hairy One or the Spongy One. The man repeated the question to Mary who gave her muffled answer. The man said that Mary wanted the Hairy One. I was ready to leave the shop but I had to wait to see what kind of mop the Hairy One was. It was the old-fashioned kind of mop made of long stringy pieces of white rope. It is the kind of mop that is very heavy when it is wet. It is difficult to squeeze out and it is hard work to use. The white rope turns to grey after the very first use. Hairy was the perfect way to describe it.

23 August Thursday

Last night our Post Office committee met for the first time. I rushed off to the meeting with a pad of yellow paper and three pens (one a green Sharpie for the colour of An Post) and an initial list of nine ideas for publicising the campaign. I had a plastic folder to carry all my things in. I was ready. Simon and I designed a badge and we researched where to get badges produced inexpensively. I had all the information. I could not wait to get going on turning this closure decision around. I came home completely depressed. I could barely speak. Apparently local attitude is very negative and the committee did not feel it worth while to go forward without a meeting with John. The post office is located inside the shop so apparently there is a feeling locally that the family are getting something out of the deal. There is resentment and distrust. I have been told about the Irish problem of begrudging any good fortune of a neighbour. This is a really ugly example. I am stunned. It seems that few care about the Post Office. One committee member said that no one his age uses the post office. He could think of no reason to go to it ever. I wondered why he had volunteered to be on the committee. Suggestions to put things in the newspapers were met with the same kind of dismissal from him. No one who is young reads a newspaper. We know that we need to use social media in all of its forms but no one wants to start anything until we know where we stand with the local opinion. Our petition is printed up in multiple copies and ready to go. No one wants to distribute them nor go door to door with them until we have answers to the questions that we will be asked while asking for signatures. There is also the problem that if you write your name on a petition everyone else will see it and know that you have written your name on that petition.
Ger told us that the 18 September, the day for the Big National Protest March in Dublin against all of the Post Office closings, is exactly when the National Ploughing Competitions will be taking place. Rural Ireland will all be at the Ploughing. They will not be in Dublin marching to save their Post Offices.
I loaned Mairéad a pen to take a few notes. Everyone had their phones on the table in front of them. I was the only one with a pen. That was the least of the problems. I came home depressed. I went to bed depressed. I woke up depressed.

Dirty Carrots in Kanturk

21 August Tuesday

I went to an emergency meeting in the village hall last night. The meeting was called because the post office in Newcastle is threatened with closure. As is the post office in Clogheen. Hundreds of post offices in small places all over the country are closing down. There are so many closure issues affecting rural villages, not only with the post offices though they are a huge part of life. . An older person going to the post office to collect their pension is bound to meet someone they know in the shop. They might buy milk or they might buy a paper while they are there. They might not buy anything. But they will have a conversation. They cannot go to the post office without having a conversation. And by the time that person gets home they will know the story of the whole town-land. Every one of us needs our post office for all kinds of reasons. We are going to fight this. I am now on the committee.

 

20 August Monday

I have stopped counting raspberries. It was a ridiculous thing to do anyway. It was easy to fall into when there were so few coming ripe. They are coming far too fast for counting now.  Every morning I pick some and every evening I pick more. We eat loads. I put some in the freezer. I take them to neighbours. The figs too are ripening at a rapid rate. They are ripe and unctuous and without doubt the best figs we have ever grown. They are not at all woody. They went from rock hard to squishy and wonderful within a week. There are plenty for the birds and there are plenty for us.

 

19 August Sunday

There is always another Tractor Run. It is a guaranteed way to earn money for a worthy cause. A long slow parade of tractors rolling through narrow lanes is a reliable draw. There are always some men happy to bring out their vintage machinery to show it off and give it a trip out in the air. It does seem an odd time of year for a Tractor Run as the farm workers are all so busy with haying and silage. The roads are already full of slow moving vehicles and machinery. The slow ones are not a problem.  It is the speeding ones that are frightening. This Tractor Run is advertised to benefit a man called Haulie Murphy. I do not know Haulie Murphy, but I like his name. I like names that tell you what job a person does. Whoever Haulie Murphy is, he is obviously someone who moves a lot of things around with his tractor and trailer or with his truck. Larry Doocey could be nicknamed Haulie what with all the runs he does with his small tractor. He delivers gravel and topsoil or whatever else people need. But he is not called Haulie.  He is always Larry Doocey.  No nickname.  For years we assumed that Christy Driver was the actual name of Christy Driver down at the bar and always occupying the exact same corner seat. But it was not. We missed a party celebrating his 60th birthday. We had been invited but because we did not realize that his real name was Christy Cullinan, we did not go. We did not know whose party we had been invited to and so it was easy to forget all about it. Christy Driver is always and only spoken of as Christy Driver.

 

18 August Saturday

Today is the beginning of Heritage Week. There are activities and tours and free access to buildings and monuments all over the country. There seems to be a lot of storytelling. In Clonmel, they are combining Heritage Week with the 50 year anniversary of STAG. STAG is the South Tipperary Art Group. The idea they came up with for the day is to set up four age groups from young children to adults and a list of locations. Any amateur painter is invited to go out to one of the assigned locations to paint a picture. They are invited to create A Brand New Original Piece Of Art From Scratch In One Day between the hours of 8 am and 5.30. The paintings must be turned into the art centre by 5.30. Winners from each category will be announced next week.

17 August Friday

The fox came running around the corner of the shed. He was moving at speed. I was sitting on the bench with a cup of tea. He saw me at exactly the same moment that I saw him. He skidded in the dirt and gravel and changed direction while he skidded. There was hardly a wasted movement except maybe a little bit while his legs found their place on the ground. He was gone in seconds.

16 August Thursday

I took a full load of stuff to the dump. As I was moving back and forth between the recycling bins and my car, a woman came over to me. She told me that I looked well. I thanked her. I wondered if I knew her. She said she never knew exactly how to dress for the dump. She said the gathering up of stuff to load into the motorcar was a certain kind of activity as was the unloading. It could get a little messy. If she chose to go into town for some messages after the dump-run she liked to look maybe a bit nicer than she would if she was only going to the dump. She did not like to waste a trip to the dump without going to town too. What with the price of petrol and everything. She liked to look carefully to see what other women were wearing at the dump to help her to decide exactly how to find the balance.

 

15 August Wednesday

The drive back from Kerry was scary. A soft drizzle had come down. It became a fog. It was impossible to see a thing. The road was winding and narrow with steep drop-offs into the sea. There were a few tour buses crawling along full of passengers who could not see a single bit of the Ring of Kerry which is what they had come for. The drive was slow and the drive was difficult.

We reached Kenmare where we planned to have a good lunch to reward ourselves for the terrifying journey. Cars were parked all along the road entering the town. A cattle market was in full swing right in the centre. There were trailers and tractors and cows and bulls and farmers everywhere. There were a lot of tweed jackets and caps and there were a lot of rain jackets. Some sections of the streets were completely closed off. They had been transformed into big holding pens for the cattle. There were deviations added on to deviations. It was not possible to stop the car. There was no where to park anyway. Hundreds of people plus all the animals and everything under a steady downpour. We escaped as best we could which was slow. We ended up in Kanturk which is a good name but the lunch we found was dreary.

There was a man on the corner near the restaurant with a small blue car. Four young children were squeezed into the back of the car. The children were tight in and screaming and making a lot of noise. They might have been happy or they might have been miserable. It was hard to tell. A woman stood quietly near the man. He had three bunches of Dirty Carrots on the bonnet of the car. He was a huge and loud man.  He kept banging the bonnet and shouting that he only had three bunches of his delicious Dirty Carrots left. He shouted that when he sold these last ones he would be able to go home and eat The Dinner. Each time he banged the bonnet more muddy soil fell off the carrots. There was no one about. It was not a busy location. I did not buy any of the carrots. I would have liked to have made a photograph of the man and his family and the carrots but I knew that if I took a photo I would be expressing more interest than I had. The man would certainly have pushed me to buy his carrots. It would have been difficult to refuse. I have marveled before about this love for Dirty Carrots. Somehow the heavy clumps of soil coated on the carrots hold great promise.  The promise is that they will taste better than another carrot which is just carrying a thin easily washable amount of soil.  I have never found this to be so. I find cleaning the Dirty Carrots much more work than they are worth. The sink is always full of mud and stones after the washing. A normal unwashed carrot is fine. A Dirty Carrot is not. When we left the restaurant, the car and the man and the family were gone so I assume somebody else came along and bought the remaining Dirty Carrots.

 

 

Em & me


11 August Saturday

A soft drizzle. The cows are gone from the near field. All day they were out there as a noisy and excitable presence. They were happy to be eating the grass even though it is not as long and green and plentiful as they might like. There was jostling and chasing and bellowing. The entire herd disappeared just before the rain began. Joe rounded them up with his tractor. Their departure was not a long orderly line. They frolicked and raced over the fields until they were out of sight. I think today was a real outing for them. They were a bit silly with it. The rain is a quiet rain. There is just enough sound on the roof for me to know while sitting in here that it is raining out there. It is a comfortable sound. And at least now I know there is no need for buckets and towels and odd shaped containers to catch the rain. The new roof inspires confidence. We are not so far removed from those endless days of drought. The grass roof still looks burned up and terrible. This is not the kind of rain to solve the farmers’ problems but it is pleasant. And it is a kind of relief to be enveloped in an indistinct view. The hills across the valley are reduced to shadowy shapes when seen through the wet.

10 August Friday

The figs are enormous. The figs have never been so big, but the figs are as hard as rocks. Not one fig is ripening. Not one bird is eating the figs. They probably do not want to hurt their beaks. Apples are falling on the ground. They are not fully ripe but they are falling off the trees. There are no plums. We do not have plums and no one else has plums. Wild or otherwise, all plums have suffered from the lack of water this summer. The raspberries are doing alright. Every morning I can pick a handful so we have between 5 and 8 raspberries each for breakfast. I will be happier when there are more than I can be bothered to count. There are plenty more berries ripening but I eat quite a few in the day each time I pass by the bushes. Blackberries are also coming ripe. They do not seem to mind the lack of rain.

9 August Thursday

I have been driving around with a large stone behind the driver’s seat. It was in the boreen and I stopped to move it out of the way. It had a nasty sharp looking edge and it was big enough that I did not want to be driving over it. It looked like the kind of rock that could do damage to a tyre. The place where I stopped was too narrow for me to open the door all the way. I could not get out. All I could do was to open the door a tiny bit and to lower my arm down and grab the stone. I could barely lift it with one hand but I did it and I sort of swung and sort of hefted it into the car behind me. I have been driving it around like a passenger ever since.

8 August Wednesday

Everyone is now required to get a Public Services Card. It is a new card and it will be necessary for many things whenever identification is required. If you want to get one or you do not want to get one, it does not matter. We will all end up with one. I went today and sat in a little booth with a woman behind the glass on her own side. I could stretch my arms out on each side and touch the walls. It was a spacious booth. At one point the woman pressed a button and a hard wall came down behind me. It was also about an arm’s length away. The wall was pale grey. It was not claustrophobic. It was just a rigid screen providing even light for taking my photograph while I staying sitting in the chair. The woman asked me if I was frightened. She told me that I was not really locked in. Then she said: “Well, you are locked in but you are only locked in for a minute or so.  No bother. It is no bother. As long as you are not frightened, it will be no bother. It will all be over soon.”


7 August Tuesday

I am thrilled to have my new book EM & ME here. It is beautiful. I am happy to see it and to hold it. I am happy again and again. I move the copies around the house so that I can be surprised and delighted each time I come across it. I like to pretend that I do not know that the book is in the spot where I find it. I try to startle myself with each next appearance. I pretend that I do not know that I placed it wherever I placed it. I pick the book up to open it and to look forward to reading it as if I have never before read any of it. As if I had not written it. There is plenty of opportunity to discover the book freshly again and again. It is not at all the same as coming around a corner and seeing Em herself again. That is never going to happen. Seeing her on the cover walking down the boreen through the cow parsley is pretty wonderful.


Simon has taken some copies down to the shop so they are available for sale in among the magazines about farming and fishing and knitting. I am sort of shyly pleased to spy it there when I go to buy milk. I look at it from the corner of my eye. I do not really want anyone to see me admiring and leafing through my own book.  I cannot imagine that there is anyone anywhere who does not want or need a copy of this book.

 

For those who cannot get to McCarra’s shop, it is already available at other shops like bookartbookshop in London, Boekie Woekie in Amsterdam, The Glucksman gallery in Cork, The Book Hive in Norwich, as well at other places I am not able to list here. Of course, it is also available directly from the Coracle website:. http://www.coracle.ie/em-me/

 

Fodder Shortage


5 August Sunday

There is much talk of Fodder Shortage. The things that cattle are eating now are the things that they should be eating in the winter. What will they be eating in the winter? Some hay fields are being baled up. I do not think any of whatever is done is can be enough at this late stage. We are not finished hearing the term Fodder Shortage. I think I just like the word Fodder.  Silage Widow is another favorite seasonal expression.

4 August Saturday

Tipp FM announced the winner of last nights lottery as someone from Waterford. Actually, they are not sure that the winner is from Waterford but they know where the winning ticket was sold. The ticket was sold from a shop in Waterford. This makes everyone happy. The radio announcer named the shop and said there was no doubt that having a winning ticket sold right there in that shop for a win of one million euro would provide a great cheering boost to the people of Waterford on this Bank Holiday Weekend.

3 August Friday

Replacing the roof was one thing. Clearing up after two years of leaks was another. Every time a new place flowed with rainwater, we gathered things into boxes or piles and pushed them somewhere just to get them out of the way quickly. Every time a solution came along we assumed it was the final one and that the dripping walls would end. The leaks moved along the seam between the fold where the two roofs joined together. The bathroom leak was a constant and always in the exact same section of wall. Except for the one time when it took over the ceiling and then the water came in everywhere. The kitchen leaks were in several places and they moved back and forth.The most worrying leak was the one that made its way through the fuse box and continued straight down to the floor. The kitchen ceiling flooded too. Both ceilings have big stains which are yet to be fixed. One part of the ceiling was ripped open and closed up again. That place is a large raw plaster area waiting for paint. It has been easy to condition myself not to look up.

In the big room, the three meter long shelves above the cupboard and the six shelves inside the cupboard, also three meters long, will no longer be soaked in the next rain. We cleaned and oiled the shelves.  We cleaned and coated the wall behind them with stain-covering paint. I was amazed at how black even the very bottom shelves were. Water damage is pervasive. The pans and plastic containers and newspapers and towels catching the rain water were never enough. After cleaning and painting, I began collecting the bags and boxes of stuff which had been spread around the house and down into the barn. Things just kept appearing. Books had been lined up on the floor and piled up on other parts of the floor. The trouble with it all was that the books had been rushed away from pouring water. They had not been examined. They had been moved in a state of panic and with great speed. Many cookbooks were completely destroyed. The pages were rippled with moisture and sometimes stuck together. Things had been moved and then they were moved again. There was no sorting.

With this dry weather, I moved chairs and rugs out doors while I struggled to regain order. Flashlights which had been on the shelves inside the cupboard and then moved out of the way were useless. The batteries and innards were full of rust. Some were still wet inside. They are good for nothing. Several old dog collars belonging to Emily had been saved. Why I do not know. They are now mouldy, but how can I throw them away? A dog whistle on a white string that never worked anyway but that someone gave me when Em was first going deaf. It is not water damaged but should I throw it out or shall I just move it somewhere else? Bowls and cups full of silvery lichen gathered on various walks. The big bowl of lavender from last years garden, or maybe from two years ago. Innumerable stones from various beaches. Every single thing in the room and from the shelves and on the windowsills came under scrutiny. Pine cones. Everything is precious. But a clean-up is a clean-up. Everything that I look at in the entire room demands a decision. I am no longer restricting the purge to the shelves that got wet. Usefulness is not always the best way to decide things. Do we need this stone which looks exactly like Prince Charles’ ear?

It has taken all week to get to the end of this indoor work. The roof is finished. The out of doors is cleaned up. The indoors is now cleaned up too.

There are now boxes full of stuff up in the barn. They are ready to take to sell at the Car Boot Sale in Fethard. I shall probably never get around to doing the Car Boot. Maybe Pat Looby wants them to sell at her weekly table.

30 July Monday

It seemed an auspicious way to begin the week. I trapped one of the enormous house spiders in the bathtub. It might have been a Cardinal Spider. Or just a Giant House Spider. I took it outside and a long way from the house. I am certain these spiders come back and crawling up the drain pipe and back in the tub. The spiders are everywhere especially at this time of year. The spiders make lots of cobwebs and the cobwebs get full of sticky dust and I feel the house is always in the process of being taken over. I never see so many spiders nor webs nor so much dust in other houses.

29 July Sunday

I drive past three farms on the way to the village. Only one has the flattened sheep dog. He is at the last farm on the way down. He is at the first farm on the way back. He lies on the road as flat as he can make himself. He sticks out quite far into the single lane road. He is black and white. He thinks he is making himself invisible but he is completely visible on the grey road. He waits until the car is almost beside him and then he rushes out as if he is going to bite the tyres. He never does more than a quick dash and then he gets back in ready position to await his next victim on wheels. He does not want to bite a tyre. He does not want to catch a motorcar. I always slow for him and his almost attack. It is a game we play together. There is so little traffic on the road he does much more anticipating than dashing.

 

27 July Friday

The yearly National Tidy Towns competition is underway. Some places get really busy with their floral displays and presentations. Some towns just ignore the whole thing. This year is proving tough for everyone because it is so hot. Everything is dry. Things like hanging baskets need a designated person with water standing beside them nearly all day long. As a village, Ardfinnan always takes its place in the competition quite seriously. There is a painted boat at a jaunty angle full of flowers on the green. Lambert’s garage has their usual painted tyres mounted on the wall with flowers tumbling out of them.

I am not sure if the painted cart is a new addition or just one I might have missed in recent years. In addition to the floral arrangements the cart has two milk churns, one inside with the foliage and one on the ground beside it. Both of the milk churns are chained to the cart and the one placed inside is full with a cement block and some  rubble just to make sure that the display position stays fixed.

Put a Smile On It.

25 July Wednesday

The work goes on. Yesterday I found a strange curl of something on the floor. It looked like an enormous toenail. That is not possible. There is no animal with such a large toenail around here. Today a knot of wood fell to the floor. It appears that the toenail was a bit of bark from around the knot. Lots of things are falling from the ceiling. This will not stop until the banging and tapping and activity stops. Most of the time the radio inside the work van is on and loud so that Peter and Mark can hear it above the noise. With windows and doors all flung open we cannot escape. Indoors and out the noise of the work is everywhere.

 

24 July Tuesday

Yesterday Peter Ryan came to remove the side of the roof where the leak has been confusing us for two years. He removed all the slates. He said the roofing felt was so old that it was like lace. There was scarcely anything to it but anyway he left the felt on for overnight just so that we were not completely exposed to the sky. At 9.30 we got an unexpected heavy burst of rain. Rain poured into the kitchen. It was not so bad in the bathroom and not too bad in the big room. We still had all the water catching devices in place there. The kitchen leak was the worst. By the time we went to bed it had mostly stopped. Lucky for us it was not the proper all night rain which everyone has been longing for. In the morning, the floor was soaked and the newspapers were sodden. The buckets were full. Peter sent me to Clogheen to get the lead flashing from Corbett’s Hardware Shop. Then I was sent to the dump with the load of old roofing felt. He cannot put that in Joe Keating’s rubble hole, wherever that is. Peter will return with Joe’s tractor when the work is all done to scoop all the remaining roof rubble and old slates off the flat roof. In between my errands I have made endless cups of strong tea as well as lunch for Peter and Mark. There is not much time in a day in between my jobs. The heat is exhausting.

23 July Monday

Pa is not Dad. Pa is never Dad. Pa is short for the name Pascal. It is never used by a child as a name for a father.

 

22 July Sunday

People look for the ways to describe the damage being done by the ongoing drought. It is a variation of grumbling. Our little concrete water trough is empty. It was made by Johnnie Mackin and rolled down the Mass Path from his house to ours. Nigel Browne rolled it down the hill through the mud and over rocks and branches and holes.  He offered to do it but later he wished that he had not offered as it was a difficult job to get it from there to here. He rolled it three-quarters of a kilometer.  It has been sitting where it is for at least twenty years.  It is empty for the first time in all those years.  The trough is not deep. The whole thing only comes up to below my knee but it has always been full of water. Rain water collects in it. Dogs drink out of it. Sometimes I use it to water nearby plants. Now it is empty. It is devoid of water. The bright green moss around the top edge has turned to brown. There was an inch of scummy muck in the bottom of the trough but already that is drying out and getting crunchy. It is as good a time as any to clean out the drying muck.

21 July Saturday

The three children often play their instruments and some music at the Farmer’s Market. They are all about twelve. There is a box on the ground for people to toss in money.  The money is being collected for the hospice. The girl and one of the boys nod and smile at people as they play their tunes and they nod when people throw coins into the box. The other boy sits straight and plays his banjo with skill but he never acknowledges the audience or anyone at all. His face is serious and sort of miserable. Glum. I thought perhaps I was maybe the only one who noticed it. Today the mother of the banjo playing boy was despairing.  She was at the Apple Farm stand. She said “How I wish he would smile. The very least he could do is Put A Smile On It, but he just cannot.”

20 July Friday

The dry weather continues. The land is bleached out. There is a lack of green everywhere. There is a sense of desperation. There is no grass growing so the cows who should be eating off the fields are eating nuts and feeds that they would usually be eating in the winter. There is worry about what they will be eating in the winter. Everyone likes the warm days but there are all kinds of conversations constructed around the idea of rainfall at night. Many people favour the time between 12 and 6. Or between 2 and 6. Or between 3 and 5. Everyone has a theory for the time they think a nightly rain will do the most good for the land and the least disruption for the summery weather. Everyone has a theory about how very good it would be for everyone and how it would solve the problems of drought but still leave us living in this holiday climate. Farmers and gardeners and cows are all suffering from the heat. Such heat is nearly unheard of. They are saying that it has been fifty days now. I have heard fifty days repeated several times. Surely it should be fifty-two days now. Or fifty-three.

18 July Wednesday

We boarded the ferry and walked up from the car deck on level 5 to level 7 where there were seats and tables and toilets and the shop and food, etc. The first thing we saw as we came out of the stairwell was an elderly lady sitting exactly opposite the door. She had fluffy white hair and a round pink face. I could not see her face completely because she was holding a book right up in front and close to her eyes. The name of the book was TIBET IS MY COUNTRY. The woman was reading with complete concentration.  She was not paying any attention at all to the people arriving out of the stairs and off the lift with bags and books and pillows brought from their cars for the four hour journey across the Irish Sea. She was oblivious to all of the people and the bustle. She looked like she had been sitting there all day which she could not have been because the boarding had not been going on for too long. I think she must have gotten off the lift and sat on the bench in exactly that position so that she would not have far to go when it was time to disembark. Perhaps the people she was traveling with placed her exactly there for that very reason. We wandered off and found our own place to read and sleep and pass the journey. When the announcement came for the car drivers and passengers to return to the car deck and to their cars we saw her again. She was in exactly the same spot and the book was still held up close to her face. Another woman who was waiting to go down the stairs said in a kindly voice: “It must be a savage good book? You have scarcely looked away since you got on board.” The reading woman said “Yes. It is a fine book. I am obliged to return it to the library tomorrow morning but I will never finish it in time if I am forced to stop and speak with strangers.”

In the Low Countries by Stuart Mills

 

30 June Saturday

As we were leaving Dungarvan, I saw a boat in someone’s front yard.  It was not a big yard so the boat was, by necessity, close to the house.  It was raised up high and surrounded by scaffolding.  It did not look like anyone had been working on it for quite a long time. Both the scaffolding and the boat were rusting. I could not help but be reminded of this wonderful poem (written in the early sixties, I think) by our late friend Stuart Mills:

 

In the Low Countries

 

They are building a ship

in a field

much bigger than I should have thought

sensible.

When it is finished

there will never be enough of them

to carry it to the sea

and already it is turning

rusty.

 

 

29 June Friday

There is an active and busy wren’s nest right beside the kitchen door. It is well camouflaged with moss and built right into the ivy. It would be invisible if there was not such a lot of rushing and zooming in and out. I am spending a lot of time watching, but all the time that I am watching, I try not to look like I am watching. I am being watched at least as much as I am watching.

 

28 June Thursday

A victualler is a butcher. I love this word. It is specific and mysterious and old-fashioned all at the same time. I never get used to seeing it. I never hear anyone saying it out loud but some butcher shops have the name carved in stone on the front of the shop.

27 June Wednesday

A Community Alert text came through saying that someone had broken into the Grange National School over the weekend. The Garda were asking for anyone with information about the break-in to be in touch with them. The vandal or vandals used a big thick black marking pen to draw large pictures of bulls with enormous erect penises. There has been a lot of discussion about the break-in and the vandalism. Mostly people feel sad and disgusted by the damage to the windows and the general lack of respect. But within the discussions there are people who are impressed and maybe a bit proud of the careful and anatomically correct drawings. This is an agricultural community. People feel it would somehow be much worse if the kids with the markers did not even know the difference between a bull and a cow.

26 June Tuesday

Yesterday at about seven o’clock, I went up to a gun range in the Knockmealdowns. I have never before been to a gun range. I have never fired a gun. I have no interest in guns. Breda and Greg had rounded up a group of walkers complete with boots and walking poles and backpacks to walk some of the trails and over the river while a photographer took some pictures. I was there out of sheer nosiness, as were several of the other friends. I filled my backpack with bubble wrap. There was no need to carry anything useful or important. It was just an evening stroll. Tommie O’Donnell runs the gun range on part of his eighty acres. He also has sheep and fields of hay. Maybe he has cows too. There are some good walking trails that climb through the forests. He is happy to have walkers going through his land to get access to the mountains beyond. He has set up a bar and function room so that people can have parties with music and dancing. There is plenty of parking. I assume no one would be shooting when the walkers are about but I do not really know. The shooting areas are very carefully divided up and off in special areas. We were shown the target shooting places and some hides as well as a dug-out which hid men like de Valera and Collins during the uprising. We stood around on some slippery stones in the middle of the river pretending to study a map while the photographer took photos. The map was a map of Wicklow but the photographer was not close enough to be able to see that. The photographer told us that he was not a professional anyway. He was only a hobbyist photographer. In his real life, he is a paramedic and he trains other people to be paramedics. He was helping Tommie with the photographs as he is a member of the gun club himself.  He enjoys coming out to do target practice with one of his several guns. The photos were for a brochure which is being made to publicize the whole place.  We were served tea in the function room before we left as if we had just had a real walk and had worked up real thirsts.

Pangaea

Yoko Terauchi arrived from Japan the other day, and in her luggage was the sculpture she made last year called Pangaea. It is made of two sheets of paper 24cms square. They are both marked at the edge with a coloured pentel pen. One is placed on the wall, and the other is wet and formed into a sphere about the size of a ping-pong ball by squeezing and tightening it in cling-film, and being left to dry completely.

This descriptive mundanity of the work of course completely detracts from its purity, and it is one of the most purely abstract things I have seen. It is a serial work, in as much as there are several colours in the pentel range that she will use to make the work, perhaps as many as twenty.

Because of its simplicity and scale, it is quite difficult to know where the work belongs. Certainly the ‘gallery’ might be too demonstrative, the display too gestural , which is what I have come to think of such places in recent times. And my fear is that the world is too busy to see things of such accomplished simplicity, too noisy for reductive thinking.

Well done, Yoko: it stays in the mind , and to paraphrase Berthold Brecht and Sol LeWitt, and once you have understood it, you own it!

Wartesaal 1979-86

I’m rarely in Paris without remembering Reinhard Mucha’s Wartesaal seen at Centre Pompidou in 1986, in what was the big open space just off the corner of Rue du Renard.

There were several very large cumulative works in his retrospective of the time, stacked furniture, ladders, dissemblies of rooms, re-makes. But the one piece that really struck me, an entire room in itself, was The Waiting Room built between 1979 and 1982 in Dusseldorf by Reinhard Mucha, and modified in 1986 for this exhibition. It is made of made of a system of stacks of drawers in a what look like dexion supports, butted and bolted together, intersecting at right angles, and incorporating a cumbersome gothic wardrobe. This in itself gave the whole installation placement, and was the sort of accoutrement you might find in any isolated railway station across the network. At the same time it anchors the piece from being completely self-enclosed, and gives it its veiled narrative.

There are eleven of these wheeled shelving units, each with twenty two drawers. In each drawer is the name of a station in Germany, painted on boards, each of them of six letters, 242 place-names in total, taken from a 1948 freight directory first published in 1943. They are rendered in the modernist type of the German rail system

Because of the need to open the drawers, you are passively invited to examine and move name-plates to a lit table in the middle of the piece, and in the hue of the fluorescent strips running at the top of each unit and the wardrobe.

In its nostalgia, its soulfulness, Wartesaal embodies the whole journey of Europe, even if taken from one particular place, almost as a cross-section of it. It also begins to use the materials of Reinhard Mucha’s construction in a more abstract, less narrative way, and forms the basis of much of his later work in which these place-names continue to be used.

It might seem like a fragile remit for this Paris column , but it is as present for me as the Eiffel Tower, even if it has not existed there for thirty years, but whenever I turn that corner from Rue du Renard into Place Beaubourg, I am amongst it.

The Postman’s Party

24 June Sunday

I found an envelope on the road. It is printed bright yellow and white and is for the Building Fund of the two churches of Newcastle and Fourmilewater. They are two separate churches but they are joined as a parish. If there is a mass at one of the churches on a Sunday there will not be a mass at the other. I think there is only one priest between them. I do not know which building is being worked on. Maybe it is both. The date 31 March 2019 suggests that there is no rush to turn in one’s envelope.

23 June Saturday

The heat is extraordinary. They are giving more heat and higher and higher temperatures for the coming week.  The temperatures are bigger than any we can usually expect.  Haying is being done everywhere. Haying is the only thing being done with a sense of frenzy.  Except for the sounds of those machines, the countryside is quiet. Even the birds seem to be resting somewhere in the shade.

One plastic barrel cut in half makes a fine feeding place. The barrels used like this are always bright blue. I do not know what came in the barrels originally, but I love them in the fields for as long as they last. The cows bump into them in their eagerness to eat and eventually the plastic cracks and the whole thing falls to the ground.

22 June Friday

We went to John the Post’s retirement party. John has not been well for several years now. We kept hoping that he would get better and that he would return to work. He has not been able to drive because of his neck and his throat and his head, so he waited and waited thinking that the various treatments would allow him to begin driving again. Now he has accepted that  the various treatments are not going to get him back behind the wheel, so he has officially retired. The little group around John was all postmen. A few of them had themselves retired in the last few years. Others were still working. They were all wearing cotton short-sleeved shirts of a particular summery type. They almost looked like they were wearing an official off-duty uniform. The bar was covered with dark wood inside and it was very quiet and cool. We were the only people, except for John’s sister, who were not postmen. There were no postwomen. No doubt some other people arrived after we left. I enjoyed talking with the postmen. Tom was there.  He had been John’s substitute for a while but now he has his own route. He is now up and down in the Nire Valley, in the Comeraghs and almost all the way to Dungarvan. His route covers an enormous area. Most of the postman do not want this winding, climbing, difficult route, especially in winter. Tom is happy to do it and happy too because his grandfather used to do the exact same route but on a bicycle. He knows delivering the post in his van is easy in comparison. Besides the difficult driving, the other postmen do not like this route because there are so many people on it who are related to each other. Tom said that there are a tremendous number of Ryans in the Nire and several are brothers who do not speak to one another so if the simple mistake is made that the wrong letter gets delivered to the wrong Ryan all hell breaks loose. Another postman told us about a different postman who did that route for a while. The man only used four tyres a year while all of the other postmen used at least twelve tyres a year. This postman only did about 20,000 miles a year on his van while everyone else did 60 or 70,000. The man was eventually called in for some questioning by the administration. The man had figured out a system to make his work life easier. He would go to the creamery and wait around while the farmers came to drop in their milk or to pick up supplies. He would hand-deliver the post to whoever arrived and then he would ask people to drop things off at their neighbours on their way home. He also went to any and all funerals in the area and did his deliveries by hand from outside the church, after giving his condolences to the bereaved.

21 June The Solstice

I took the car to Mike for some work. He told me that we are promised a heat wave today. People are ready for it or at least some people are ready for it. Some people are wearing shorts and t-shirts while others are wearing wind-proof jackets all zipped-up. I saw one woman wearing an enormous white fur hat with sparkly things sewn into it. She looked hot but she also looked very proud of her hat. Mike told me that the heat wave will begin at half two. He said it will be over by tea time. This was his joke.

Mike has bee hives on the top of four wrecked cars in his yard. The cars have one, two or three hives on their roofs. Each hive has a bit of metal something from a car to weight the tops down. All of the hives are homemade and they are painted in different colours. My favourite is the pale yellow one. An 83-year old friend brought the hives and a few queens over from Burncourt to attract fresh workers to his community of bees. The man has already taken two hives away and there are lots of bees swarming around the remaining hives. The four cars are all Saabs. Mike loves Saabs. They are his preferred car to work on. He is saving these old cars for parts. When there is not much work, he rebuilds old Saabs and makes them good and then he sells them and rebuilds another. Right now he needs a piece out of one of the Saabs but he thinks he will have to wait till the bees have been taken away. Mike has learned a lot about bees because the bee-keeping friend tells him things and then people like me come along and ask a lot of questions and he is able to pass on the new knowledge. He said that most bees in America are African bees and that they are very aggressive. The strains here came from other places and they are more relaxed. I believe him, but I still prefer not to go too close.

 

20 June Wednesday

The Elderflower Cordial has been strained and decanted into bottles. Twelve and a half bottles is this years supply. The bottles have been labelled. Simon thought he was doing me a great favour by cutting out the labels and gluing them onto the bottles. Labelling the bottles is my favourite part of the making. I felt a bit disappointed but I did not tell him that. I just said thank you.

19 June Tuesday

There were four little girls standing outside the stone wall. I was just walking along the road. I did not recognize any of the girls. Three of them were holding hands and singing sweetly over the wall to a cluster of wobbly young calves. The calves looked interested and excited to have this performance. Probably they were confused. The one girl who was not singing shushed me with her finger on her lips. She told me that we must be very quiet because baby calves prefer music to talking.

 

18 June Monday

Forty large elderflower blossoms took no time to collect. The countryside is covered with the creamy blossoms. Sometimes they all look easily available but in fact they are too high and way to get near to them is surrounded by nettles. Today was easy. I needed twenty blossoms for a batch of cordial and I planned to make two batches. Forty blossoms plus a few extra. I cut off all the leaves and most of the thick stems. The mixture is now out on the table in a covered pan. It needs to sit and steep for twenty fours hours. Tomorrow I shall bottle it.

17 June Sunday

I took fresh strawberries to Tommie and Margaret. As I stood at the door I looked down and saw a white envelope from Lourdes addressed to Tommie and Mgt. Hally in blue biro. On top of the envelope was a small bottle of Holy Water. I picked the two things up off the ground just as Tommie opened the door. I handed him the Holy Water and the envelope with one hand and the strawberries with the other. It was a confusing moment. He was thrilled with the strawberries and he was thrilled by the Holy Water. He barely knew which to deal with first. He whispered “Oh, They went to Lourdes and now they are back.” I do not know who the They were, the people who had gone to Lourdes and so kindly brought back the Holy Water. I was pleased to see how happy he was about the gifts. I was interested in Mgt. as an abbreviation for Margaret.

16 June Saturday

On entering Cahir for the Farmers Market the road is often full of parked cars. Every Saturday there is some kind of game being played by the children in the sports field. The cars of the parents are parked all along on both sides of the road. With cars parked along both sides the road becomes a single lane road. Some Saturdays there is also a funeral at the church. The church is across from the playing fields. Once the car park is full the cars spill out onto the road for a long way in either direction. One can tell how big a funeral is by the number of cars. If the road is really blocked up we know that the family was well-known in town and maybe related to a lot of people. Today there was a huge event following the death of a woman named Mary. I know very little about this Mary, but I know a little. She was the receptionist at the Surgery. The eye doctor and her husband both have their practices in a bungalow on the edge of town. There are two doors to enter the two surgeries and inside in the centre is one desk. Mary took care of the patients who entered in the left hand door for Dr John and his practice as a General Practitioner. She also took care of the patients who entered from the right hand door for Dr. Bernie who is an Eye Specialist. She was completely efficient and she never forgot anyone’s name. She had an exuberance which made you feel that no one had a more fun or happy job. Between endless phone calls and the patients coming in and going out of the two doors she made everyone feel that they were lucky to be there and that she was lucky too. Mary was in her early fifties. She was walking down a road on Wednesday with her niece, or maybe it was a nephew, who was on a bicycle. The road is a very long and very straight stretch of road. It used to a be the busy main road on the way to Mitchellstown and Cork, but since the motorway was built, it is an extremely quiet road. Anyone going in either direction on the road can see for a mile up the road. There is a wide space along the road for people to walk safely or for tractors and slow moving vehicles. Mary was hit by a car. No doubt it was the only car on the road. Whenever I am on that road I am always the only car on the road. The road is never busy. The car hit Mary but it did not hit the child. Mary was killed. The community is shocked. The funeral this morning was packed. Death in a small community affects so many people. Even if one does not know the family there is always a connection no matter how small. We all feel a need to show our shock and sadness. The word tragedy is used again and again.

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