Postcard from the Edge of the Townland

This week, I met Brian, the writer.
I would never ever, ever, say this. Your text is past the point of rescue remedy. Complete Trollop’s. Never. Not ever. Always pour forth. You are getting there. I look forward to being a reader of your novel, printed and guillotined out of your mind, by Caesarian section, just in case the Manor Hamilton vet’s scan shows that there are two lambs in her uterus, Romulus and Remus. The Cotswold countryside is full of fecking fleecy sheep, Mr. Murphy.
The classroom, slow to react, was uncertain.
From Manor Hamilton mart, He continued, then sat down.
Is that paragraph good enough to pass your editor’s censorious picque.
Where the feck is the Cotswolds, again. The flautist piped up.
Let us pull out the map of Sasanach, and draw your fecking sheep on it, not on mine, your map, your hand drawn map, his teacher replied. Our understanding of their geography comes from the radio, the Cotswolds is silly mid-off when bowling from the Manchester end, wearing a woolly jumper on a scorching hot day. Overheated, he starts his run up at Hadrian’s wall. He is out, caught, by a snick to the first Cotswold. Mr Murphy the Irish Newsreader, is new to cricket commentating. He must have been left handed.
Republican lessons were going down a treat in the Corracloon School.
Brian had gone visiting over the weekend and had a new ally, receiving a book from an Alternative Ulster library on fungal taxonomy, the science of classification and the identification of the species from far flung country-sides from the Cotswolds to Barbuda.
The title of the fecking book, in a series of monographs on Humour Research had the bizarrely inappropriate title – A sence of humour. A thesis, read only once, by the poor author, so full of typos, which is so fecking funny, you cannot believe, I am serious, but I am.
Oberon, what is the problem. He is training to be the next dog in space.
Corracloona, we have a problem.
Oberon wants to go out for a space-walk.
Do not bother Mary or us.
Taxonomy is the great extinguisher of mirth, the next class, Mr. Murphy, thought ahead, almost for the first time in his life. Planning, scheming always, but thinking ahead. Never. In that stubborn, Ulster, blackberry bath of grey mould of a way, in a Penicillin prescription voice, that brings me on to Manor Hamilton, later on in the morning to return Library books, from that foetid stew that is his mind.
This week, I met Brian.
The bowl on his space ship is low in water and out of carrots, except there is a half, actually a smidgin less than a quarter of a carrot, still in his bowl, but there is no kibble.
I think we are getting there, closer to Corracloon.
The hermitage’s bedroom door is open. He puts his hand out and closes it.
The extraordinary happens.
Oberon pants vigorously after the aerobic exercise of barking continuously, while being ignored. Unlike Bran, he eats carrots quietly, in between barking.
He knows the story is not funny, and he is exhausted barking at me for offenses against the state of Oberon act. I read to him in my Richard Burton voice, as if it were Under Milk Wood. He sits by my side like a Manxian Panda, black and white with three and a half legs, settled, his gavel meeting out justice in camera in hermetic chambers. Oberon’s skill in justice extends to salami, which he found in a box of taxonomic collections left down to dry from Belmont’s picnic on Friday.
It is Monday. He looks to me to have the recess terminated, sitting, repositioned, back to the door.
‘Vivid Vivienne’s baskets from vimnalis in Vermont require Vermouth to soothe, explaining the benefit of the republic to the citizens of The States’ Mr. Murphy said. ‘The making of basket cases is our next class in Corracloon, Mr. Murphy continues. A class in home economics for your formation. ‘And Snowberry by the school yard grows native in Virginia, Symphytocarpus virginiana, continuing his taxonomy lesson, totally invasive, and unsuitable for making of baskets, but wreaths at Christmas perhaps, when it Snows on Killymanjaro.
Found your inner voice yet, Sir.
That is not funny.
Oberon, gnaws and licks in an attempt to soothe the itch of his underbelly mange, back to the door.
This week, I met Brian.
He is actually a writer. So much so, when he retired after his parents died and he bought an abandoned republican National School in Corracloon, to write in.

Corracloona,
Tuesday

Dear Brian,
Thank you for your hospitality in Corracloon on Saturday, and I trust you enjoyed your visit to our wee monastic hermitage in Corracloona by return, where our dogs eat carrots. Hope your dogs are well, especially the epileptic one. We enjoyed the homemade flapjacks and the black Earl Grey tea. Maria sends her Aubergine recipe from Manor Hamilton library.
Learning from you,
Regards,

Mr. Murphy.

800-850 words.

Oberon sounds suitable for the Angelus

He goes in the rushes. When he is done, he bursts through the tussocks, rustling back onto the path.
Come on, Obi!
He gets to the door first.
I look in the window passing, see Oberon up on the bed already, walk to the door and shutting it, the door clips home.
Oberon is now drinking in his room, lapping, a sound track suitable for the Angelus. He moved on and is now settled behind the kitchen door. His chin is on a floor mat, watching.
Five books are to go back to the Library, in the morning, to Manor Hamilton. They are laid out on the bed.
I cough and splutter. Moving, I sit on the bedside to continue writing.
Oberon repositions himself on the Leaba, watching the kitchen door, in more comfort.
I turn in, too, shedding my slippers, which might irritate him, into action.
Oberon resumes his watch, noticing my feet. He picks at the kibble spilled from the bed bound dish.
He looks over at Patricia Fitzgerald’s 2004 book From Pictures to Words, a guide to books for children, by a County Clare Librarian.
Oberon is wondering when Howard would write and illustrate a book to read to dogs at bedtime, especially for him.
He growls, now, as I type up this.
He gnaws at the duvet, grooming the sheets, a pelt satisfyingly mange free. He noses and tips the bowl and then, nose in, selects another kibble, with a deft sweep of his tongue.
My arm is like that of a right-handed swimmer, with the muscle on the back forearm, tightening with each progressing sentence.
Oberon sits. His ears follow the sound of the story on the radio, and the rubbing of my toes and feet together. Socks hang from the radiator.
Oberon descends from his perch, and I check on him, disturbing him in the process. He is nosing around my shoes and socks. He lies flat out on the tiled floor. He rises, checking on Maria sounds, emanating from the kitchen – pots moving between berths on the cooker’s ceramic rings.
Howard remembered that Mary said Jose called her a good cooker. Jose was a kid, brought over by a Spanish priest, who came to stay in Ballyanne. The priest of Rathgarogue, Father Frank had arranged for a Spanish exchange in the parish, and one of the kids in the group to stay with her, and be on his best behaviour, with his most trusted parishioner, Mary. In his gratitude, Hose’s innate Spanish humour, attempting to speak polite English, lives on in Mary’s mind.
Michael Murphy, the newsreader, another Spanish exile, writes poetry of emulating voices for the Beeb Four, with select vocabulary of perfectly pronounced language of Joanna Trollope, one could never find on Irish Radio at Montrose.
‘A Country Girl’ starts on the radio. Ah, the stage Irish …
Oberon began to breathe more regularly and dozes off. The radio reception tuning here North of Manor Hamilton leaves a lot to be desired, contrasted with kettle boiling noises … as the water temperature, and the steam pitch rises.
‘Howard’, she calls.
‘Yes’, he responds.
Maria lightly scrapes and thunks on some crockery on the cooker with a fork, as Howard imagines that she is plating up din-dins.
As the Beeb Four radio play proceeds, he ask ‘What is that tune?’
‘The Parting Glass’, she replies.
How interesting! Go on https://www.lichenfoxie.com; do the contemplation required, reflect on the meaning of …
din,
before and after din …
make a composition about din,
in a poetic mode of thought.
He awaits dinner … but cannot write for much longer.
That’s it, time is up. His arm feels that last surge to write.
Come on! She calls …
Coming …, coming …

Aubergines sliced and salted,
dabbed in cream flour,
as batter,
fried on a pan,
chilies for her,
none on his,
serving,
after swabbing in a dish …
of microwaved honey.

‘That’s the amazing thing about a recipe’, from a vegetarian cookbook from the Manor Hamilton Library, she began, ‘is that even if one might not have tried or tasted it before, when making dinner, recipes really work out, best’.
Mary’s daughter, Maria, is a good cooker.
Should we keep the cookbook out for another week, or bring it back, man yana?

736 words

Howard Fox
20th August 2019

Kildare Snowdrops

The tall tree casts its long shadow at dawn in a weak sun; winter is beginning to ease. Snowdrops catch little of the hint of warmth in still air. Cool but not cold. These Galanthus nivalis could be from the mountains in Turkey, from a valley far above the Black Sea, where I have never been.

Our snowdrops in the garden at home were planted by a previous owner, a different family and a different generation. Snowdrops from Crimea, snowdrops from the Balkans, snowdrops from the First World War. Ottoman trophies – a few bulbs brought home in soldier’s luggage – memories of friends lost in the chaos and misadventure of war.

The snowdrop varieties here in our garden are the same as the ones of the big houses of North Kildare: Castletown and Carton. Snowdrops as a signature of social cohesion, a society within a society, traded as presents between the tenant farmer’s wife and the big house. The snowdrops in Hosie’s garden were in a white sward, right across from the 33 milestone on the old coach road from Dublin. That is 33 Irish miles, marked on Taylor’s Map of Kildare of the 1770s.

Writing for pleasure itself is alive here on a Saturday morning in the halls of Ardgillan, the home of the road improver Taylor of Taylor’s Map at his country seat. And there are snowdrop varieties to see here in Ardgillan gardens too, in the shade of the tall trees.

This short piece developed from an exercise of 15 minutes composition, from the prompt word -Tree, freshly written at this morning’s meeting of the Ardgillan Writers Group and read a few times by a our readers, for sentences that did not work, transcribed this afternoon from the pencil manuscript typed up, edited and elaborated this evening and made ready for this internet blog.

Sunday Morning

Two herons fly north tonight, over a moonlit high tide. Gemini in a western sky guides celestially the first plane in to the airport to land. Wavelets lap and swoosh as seaweeds are drift up. Oberon takes me out for this, for a rainbow around the moon, thin cloud, dewy cars and damp grass. So to sit on the harbour slip, crocs idle in dry sand, tempts me to make the first footprints on land, on a Sunday morning, wet after the turned tide.

Crescent moonrise over Loughshinny

The dog looks over me, waiting for me to wake up. A whimper to see if I am emerging from unconsciousness, and then a few more insistent barks when he sees he is getting a result. Clasping palms, I roll towards the edge of the bed, my elbow righting myself for the day ahead.

His single woof, at his nemesis Bran, chambered next door, is his acknowledgement that he is on his way up and out for his morning walks. Out the door, down the steps, to the lawn for a quick pee, and the pressure is off. He runs dollop, bear-like, a black and white Manx panda dog, tailless, with ferocious teeth, sometimes.

We go around the old lifeboat house to the beach. The sand is wind blown this morning, scalloped, like something fresh from the Sahara, dry, footprint free.

He has woken me before for astronomical highlights. The red-eyed full moon during the tail end of a lunar eclipse over the bay in the winter, the moonlight reflected in a damp beach with the southwest Dublin sodium lamp glow. Another nocturnal walk around and across to the Chevrons in the spring, rocks at the edge of the bay, Venus light, on a moon free night, from the east reflected as spots on a gentle lapping sea.

His track across the sand is distinctive, a three pawed cluster with his peg leg leaving the mark of a pirate’s stump. The sand blows and a few grains reach my lips and I rub my eyes. I have always dreamt of seeing full moonrise at sea in the Pacific Ocean, but that would take planning.

This morning’s view is of a crescent moonrise east through the orange pre-dawn stripe of the horizon, over the Irish Sea. Rockabill lighthouse is to the northeast, a twelve second red blink, with an open sea horizon southeast to Lambay and on to the green second light on the navigation marker south in Loughshinny Harbour.

Returning for the camera, I capture seven views of the crescent moon to illustrate it. Johnny still slumbers in the mobile home, with his dog Blackie, who had hid under his mobile home for a few days unfed, and Wiry, carried under his arm past our window last night, past the risk of an encounter with one of our pair.

Oberon has been out before dawn, and Bran tumbles back into his canine reverie, while Oberon supervising the door, he lies, exhales nasally, and lies horizontal like a door draft excluder, ensuring that any ingress or egress cannot possibly be missed.

Seagulls, Greater Black Backs pick for lugworms, along the stripe of the freshwater spring across the beach to the west, their breast feathers catching the early morning sunrise with a glossy white to prawn pink hue.

I sit looking west, curious to know if the crescent moon is visible now, when I have finished writing this, the long shadows have more contrast, and the sunlight has more strength, now that the day is here.

HOWARD FOX
2 June 2016

Ardgillan Writers Group Blog II

Peeing on Seaweeds – an open apology to persons unknown.

Not far from where we are now sitting in the Brick Room, I invite you to imagine the Lifeboat House and the views to the Mournes from our walks around the coastal paths of Red Island. Looking nearer, we can see the rocky shore north and east of the Lifeboat House here, is an exposed, slippery, slithery shore with a brown kelp forest exposed at low tide with bladder wrack in rocks above. Walking here among seaweeds and rocks is for the sure footed, for those who can cope with an occasional fall.

Seaweeds detached from the rocky coastline of Red Island in the littoral, the sub-littoral to sub-tidal zones can drift in the sea water, past hardy frosty swimmers, and wash up in cast lines along the South Beach, when the high tide turns. Twice daily, this line of seaweed is fresh gift from the sea for scrutiny by dogs, walkers and storytellers.

Oberon, a three and a half legged, black and white border collie, loves going for his walk on the South Strand, once or twice a week, on the weekday evenings after work, or on a Saturday before or after lunch in Skerries, we all have the opportunity to walk a section of the one or two lines of cast up seaweed.

Seaweeds on the strand line of the beach are green, brown or red – green like the sea lettuce Ulva or the green tassles of Enteromorpha; or brown, like channelled wrack or Pelvetia from the rocks, knotted wrack or Ascophyllum, serrated wrack and bladder wrack or Fucus, fluted oar weed or Saccharina, northern kelp or Laminaria, or sea spaghetti Himanthoria. The red ones are special like the dilisc flaps of Pepper Dulse, or the tiny red epiphytic ones that colonise the stems of old brown feaminagh, like the red Polysiphonia on the batons of kelp or old stems of wrack.

Released from his responsibilities of driving a white van along the windy shore road under the bridge from down the hill from Ardgillan, Oberon arrives in Skerries harnessed and restrained on a 7m retractable lead, ready for his Saturday Walk.

Sure footed, leaps three and a half legged from the cabin to the pavement and up onto the grass. We cross the path, through a gap in the oak baton slatted fence, onto the dunes and down onto the sand. When Oberon arrives bladder full, the seaweed line is quickly targeted. A three second pee, and a splash here and there, after sniffing the seaweed’s potential. The browns of Fucus serratus and Ascophyllum nodosum are the prime targets.

The long batons of the Kelp are a suitable beach toy and plaything of this Ballyanne, New Ross dog. Hurled lead length away, Oberon scurries to retrieve. The more ramified clusters of Ascophyllum are brown bubbly floor mops, when hurled wet land slap on the sand. They are soon behind his canines, in a premolar 1 and 2 grip, as he rat-tossles them hydra-like, shaking the seaweed to within an inch of its rat-tailed life. ‘Those imaginary rats must be really terrified of you, Oberon’

Oberon’s walks on South Beach have passed off without incident, a meeting with Harley, a stop, chat and parley about dogs and peeing on seaweeds, or whether you have more than two dog poop bags, when Oberon goes thrice.

In conversation, peeing on seaweeds is an ideal theme for opening caint with dog owners. Imagine yourself saying ‘Does your dog pee on seaweeds too. I have just noticed that he did. How interesting.’

This day a man in grey trousers fell into conversation on the South Beach. We were so engrossed in the caint about peeing on seeweeds that Oberon took an unbidden liberty. He wet him through to the leg. So, what do you do. Offer to have his trousers taken to the cleaners, or be taken to the cleaners over his trousers? I must say caint about ‘peeing on seaweeds’ worked, and we negotiated for an exemption on the grounds that they were grey work trousers.

When the man got home to his wife, we can imagine the conversation.

‘How was your walk?’

‘I saw you talking.’

‘Did you meet anyone interesting.’

As she continued her Saturday morning house chores, she said.

‘Do you have anything for the washing machine?’

What happens in Skerries, stays in the Brick Room.

© Howard Fox, 26 July 2014, 766 Words

Read at an Ardgillan Writers Group function at the Brick Room – Saturday 26 July 2014

Caribbean Literary Salon Blog VIII

‘Assimilation of all things lichen was part of my third level mission – an obsession of my late teens.’ He regaled.

‘I mined the institutions for insights. The checklist model made me focus on the genus as an intrinsic unit of intuition and the species was one of degree, incremental difference that carved up the variation seen along traditional lines. Thallus and fruitbody form, ascospore size and chemistry, but then I turned ethically organic. So no more lichen chemistry as a diagnostic tool. No K, C or Pd allowed in all his anti-Nylander-ian contrariness.’

‘I still do some chemistry, Iodine in Potassium Iodide to show amyloid carbohydrates in fungal cell walls of the apices of octosporous asci.’ He said.

‘How does that obsession drive you now?’ She asked.

‘I feel for the intellectual space of developing countries, where the species are known by few, and their meaning is uncertain due to the failure in oral, cultural and graphic communication. The scientific interpretation in writing is a shorter text than an artist would paint when observing, so it is just a catalogue of scientific details, study after study, method after method, until one knows the entities that are there.

‘The history has to be clean, crisp. The novelties are those in the literature that one follows. If one is to create literature, one needs to look and write and interpret and explain and be charismatic and persuasive. All these are overlapping skills, which one has to withdraw from ego-lessly, to learn the truth from the specimen flow.’

‘The fear of looking is why we wrap our packets in paper.’ He said.

‘Over familiarity does not allow us to keep separate the forms expressed and collected on the day in the life cycle when we saw them.’

~ ~ ~ ~

They were walking down the stream bed, passed water filled pools, puddles in an otherwise dry rocky stream. Two ephemeral streams merged at a prominent boulder and his worry increased, but he said nothing. He had never seen a Fer de Lance.

You-tube, viewed in retrospect, showed a 15 second clip of a coiled snake that lunged open mouthed at prey.

Snakes are maligned creatures, furtive now or else machete’ed to death by bipedal predators.

They walked machete-less down the stream, merrily without a dream. He was determined to never to admit being edgy about Fer de Lances.

~ ~ ~ ~

A few days later he admitted his concern.

‘Remember those pools in the ephemeral stream at Trou Gras. Do you think that is the sort of place for a Fer de Lance to bask in the tropical heat, close to the water?’ He hissed to her.

‘I was worried about the Fer de Lance too. Why did you not say anything? She asked.

‘I did not want to worry you unnecessarily, as the habitat was too good. I felt that any interruption and we would not have made such a thorough lichen collection.’

The lichen collections from Trou Gras were actually first rate. We had Arthonia, Arthothelium, Thelotrema, various Graphis and Pyrenula species. When they got back they would tie up the loose ends.

~ ~ ~ ~

A week later he met an older man walking along the lane by the main road, with two armfuls of plantains that he was carrying to feed to his pigs.

He stopped and asked him:

‘Are there snakes at Trou Gras?’

‘Everywhere you turn.’ He replied.

~ ~ ~ ~

Howard Fox, July 2014, 593 words.

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