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Living Locally

Erica Van Horn
Uniform Books


27 June 2007 – Tom Browne told me about the dances held in the village halls when he was young. He said the girls were always on the look-out for the men with wrinkles in the back of their jackets. The wrinkles meant that a man had arrived by motor car. Those men who arrived without wrinkles had travelled on foot or by bicycle, and so they were considered second best.

2 July – The rain is driving us all mad. We have had wild and blustery, partly dry weather for the last two days, but rain is still the main topic of conversation. Rain rules all our activities. If I am down in the barn doing something and torrential rains start, I look around for something else to do until the rain stops. Sometimes an hour or so passes and lots of jobs get done before escape is possible. All this makes for a kind of erratic approach to any activity, because constant interruption creates a constant need for re-directed energy. If we didn't have our work spread out between four buildings it might be easier. If our work wasn't always and mostly about paper, it might be easier too. Wet paper is a problem. Clothes and skin and hair dry eventually, but wet paper is a pest.

3 July – We still have not had a complete day without rain. We still have not identified the blue flower on the grass roof. We still have not finished folding and collating our book pages. But we have completed our bathroom. We now have a sink for the first time in nine years. We have become so accustomed to using the bathtub for brushing our teeth that it is a shock not to continue doing so. John Carney designed a towel rail which is also a radiator. He built it out of welded copper pipes, and hooked it up to the radiator entrance and exit pipes. It looks like a huge and rather wide ladder. In the winter, we shall have warm places to hang the towels, but for now, it is good just to have any place at all to hang towels. A little more painting, and carpentry, and we can stop this bath-room work.

6 July – Liam Harper telephoned. He is the meter reader for the Electricity Board. He rings every so often, probably four times a year, to ask for a reading off our electricity meter. I have to fetch a chair to climb up and read the numbers. Sometimes I have to get a torch too. He always tells me to be careful not to fall off the chair. I do not think he has ever come here in person, even at the beginning. I have no idea what he looks like but I imagine a very large man sitting in an armchair in front of the television with a cigarette, a big mug of tea, and a jumble of papers. On the telephone, Liam Harper sounds like a large and jolly man. He is probably slim and sitting at an organized desk, not smoking.

16 July – We keep hearing things on the radio and reading in the English papers about the way the English are dealing with their new smoking ban. I do not remember hearing very much about the Scottish situation in dealing with it. We have so thoroughly accepted and grown accustomed to the smoking ban here in Ireland, it is just normal. I cannot even recall how many years it has been since it began. The really big discussions all took place before the ban went into effect. Once it was law, everyone found a way to deal with it and the non-smokers kind of forgot that it was an issue, except when someone came down from the mountains or something and really had not had to acknowledge it yet. One Michael came into the pub shortly after the law took effect. He ordered a pint and slapped his pack of cigarettes onto the counter. Rose took them away and said he could have them when he left. He cursed roundly, and then went out to his car to get a cigar, which he had 'in storage'. Rose bolted the door after him. After smoking the cigar halfway, he wailed and shouted that he was perished out there, and that she had to let him back in since it was no way to treat a 75-year-old respected customer. Later that night, another Michael came in, had two pints, and then went outside and smoked ten cigarettes, one right after another.

23 July – Another call from the Station Master at Waterford Railway Station. We have not spoken for some weeks now. He said, "Hello, Erica, I understand you've been ringing me again." I said, "Oh really? Did I? And what did I say?" We both laughed and he expressed his regret that it had not been him who had answered the phone this time. Some months ago, a woman rang to complain about the road being closed at the level crossing for an excessively long time, just in the morning when she was driving to work. Of course, that was exactly when the train needed to go by too. The Station Master assured her that the road was never closed for a minute longer than was necessary. The second time, she left her name and number. When he rang back, he got me. He knew immediately that he had a different woman on the line. My voice was a dead giveaway. I was obviously not the woman with the strong Tipperary accent. I did not even know which level crossing was being discussed. The same woman phones and complains on a regular basis, and she always claims to be me. The Station Master marvels that she does not try to find an alternative route for driving to work. He always rings to tell me when I have phoned.

5 August – We had ten solid hours of heavy, heavy rain last night. It never let up. The morning has been soft and drizzly. I walked out with Em. She's a dog, so wet is okay. Her mother was a sheepdog. We don't know who her father was. He might have been a bearded collie. She has the black and white coloration of a sheepdog but she has shorter legs, wider hips, and a large fluffy white ruff around her neck. She is not all sheepdog.

As we walked, I was surprised to find blackberries ready to pick. It does not seem possible that there has been enough sun for them to have had time to ripen. They are several weeks, maybe even a month, early. The hedgerows are full of wild honeysuckle with the blackberries tucked in between. Here in Tipperary, hedges are called ditches. I cannot get myself used to calling them ditches. Ditches divide one field from another field or from a road. A ditch is high growth, and what I would call a ditch is called a dike here. So I should rephrase this: The ditches are full of wild honeysuckle with the blackberries tucked in between. The smell of it all is amazingly sweet. And still, deep mud squelches underfoot.