Niamh O’Malley



Yes, I’m aware it’s a terrible photo. There’s a reason. I took it when I should not have even been thinking of taking a photograph. My mind should have been fully occupied by the catastrophic events which were, even then, in flow. It’s embarrassing to think I cared (or uncared momentarily?) enough to stop and capture some squirming caterpillars on the roadside hedge.  I didn’t even get the point of focus right.

It had been happening for weeks, an infestation of grey caterpillars munching and mulching the hedge which runs opposite my family home. Within the house things were mostly quiet, any talk had was of efficiencies, solutions; how sleep might be got, pain managed, comfort found. There was an inordinate focus on food. If only some food could be found to soothe and build and recover. Soft foods, although there were no issues with chewing, comfort soft, pillowy, smooth, almost always a shade of cream. In this same house I remember jugs of warm milk straight from the dairy filling the small fridge. As the milk cooled, the cream rose thick and lumpy to the surface until it was scraped off into a separate bowl for baking.

With so much busying there was often very little to do. There was a lot of wandering, checking on, staring out of windows, finding jobs. This was no longer really my home and it is harder to fill the time when the spaces and objects to hand are not completely yours to mine and mind. Outside was easier than in.

The nasty grey web of the caterpillars was spreading by the day. It was June, sunny, beautiful – perfect days and this infestation, never before seen, was metre by metre destroying the tender shoots of the hawthorn. It ran right around the corner and up the hill now. I tried to interest those who know about the fields and the animals, those who normally like to be consulted for their wisdom and knowledge. But visitors were no longer visitors, they were callers, rhythmically arriving and leaving, to remind us of their care and concern.

Fine day, no tea thanks, anything we can do.