Back in the early COVID days, I was chatting to a mate who was coming to terms with life without the structure of getting up and going to work and then coming home again. They noted that this had been my world for quite a few years and that until now they’d never quite appreciated how hard it was to function without structure when structure was what you were used to. As with any freelancer, the concept of structure took on new meaning when I handed in my last corporate pass and decided that I was never again going to have to ask anyone for permission to take a day off. The laugh’s on me though as the days off I’ve had since setting out on my own pale in comparison to the paid holidays I got as a paid-up member of the corporate world. That’s not a complaint, by the way, merely an observation.
Out for my constitutional during the week, I was lost in a world of my own. Perhaps it was the light or the time of day or that I was more open than usual to catching onto nature’s nuances; whatever it was, I found myself fixating on structure and what my friend had said, months after the conversation had taken place.
I was taken by the neatness of the log piles, readied to stoke a winter’s fire. Such preparedness. For my neighbours, preparedness is a way of life. In the village, seasonal stockpiling is a given. The corn is dried to be fed to the chickens. The hay is baled to be fed to the animals. The root vegetables are laid down in the cellars along with the hard fruits. The soft fruit has been jammed and jellied, the pigs slaughtered and quartered, hung and dried. This year’s palinka has been bottled and the new wine set to age. Everything has been or is being prepared and readied for what some are saying will be a long, cold winter.
For many others, preparedness is a lesson that’s had to be learned this year. COVID is a great teacher. Thinking in terms of just in case has become a national pastime. Remember the stockpiling of rice and yeast and loo roll? And then of paracetamol and Vitamin D? Remember pharmacies selling out of blood oxygen monitors and thermometers? All to the chorus of just in case. Whatever certainty that had existed in our structured lives has been diluted by not knowing and in that not knowing we’ve had to change how we think.
These mud walls have seen eighty winters and more and they’re still standing. No move has been made to level the building or to rebuild it. The owners I suspect are content to leave it as it is – perhaps as a subconscious reminder that things do last, that there is some sense of continuity. And in their own way, the walls still serve; they still provide shelter from the wind and shade from the sun. Or maybe it’s simply not a priority. Very little is torn down in the village; what is falling down of its own accord is occasionally propped up and sometimes built up, but more often than not, it’s left to its own devices.
I’m learning so much. I hadn’t known that blue is the most expensive paint you can buy or that painting your house white is a sign of money as you’ll need to paint it more often than if you paint it a colour that won’t show the dirt as quickly. Painting ours blue and white really has sadly misrepresented my bank balance. I’m learning that the choices I make based on taste and style are loaded with meaning I was completely unaware of. Although no one appears to be watching, everyone sees everything. Despite its laidback randomness, there’s an underlying structure to village life that has a form of its own.
I’ve developed a thing for brick walls and barns. There’s a bus shelter in Zalakomar that I slow down to admire every time I pass. I saw some lad building it a couple of years ago and regret not stopping and asking for his number. It’s a work of art. Barns are common. Some are bigger, some smaller, some in a better state of repair than others. And while some might seem to be falling down in places, they’re still standing. They’re still doing what they were designed to do. They’re still surviving. They’re continuing to weather the storm and whatever life throws their way.
Way off in the distance I noticed a gap in a line of trees that I’d not noticed before. A break in what was once a solid line of foliage. I’m not sure when it happened, or how it happened. Perhaps it’s been there for ages and I’ve only now noticed. It struck me, as I was thinking about COVID and structure and preparedness, that there’ll be breaks in traditions, too, this year. Spans of time interrupted. Records broken. New traditions started. These gaps give us space to move around, to shuffle things up, to see if they work better in a different form. To quote Francis Bacon:
“You have to break technique, break tradition to do something really new. You always go back into tradition, but you have to break it and reinvent it first.”