Winter Returns, for now.

Winter Returns


News at Nine, now. And our first story of course is

What everyone’s talking about today. The weather.

Yes, winter has hit, and hard. Lots of traffic

Snarl-ups this morning, with tailbacks of two hours,

Cars sliding on the icy surface after the first snowfall

Of the season. Hundreds of hub workers literarily

Frozen in gridlock on their way in from the suburbs:

Even those who left well before dawn to get a jump

On the rest forced to a slow crawl behind snowploughs

And salt spreaders – an army of which were out

All night, trying to keep the cars moving, and will be

In force for the rest of the cold snap.


Yet, it didn’t get

Any better during this evening’s commute, people

Still on the road as we speak. We’ll be taking you

Live, later to our on-site reports from a host of

Highways and byways, where there’s not much

Headway being made at all.


And what a shock

To the system; suddenly, the hot weather

We were all becoming so accustomed to, has gone

For now. The beer gardens and restaurant

Terraces, that were teeming last weekend, now

Deserted but for a few forlorn sparrows seeking

Crumbs under the drifts of their new white home.

While we’re faced with a whole lot of inconvenience

For the foreseeable future. Especially those travelling

Long distances, another thing we’ve become used to.

Wheel chains compulsory on certain routes; time to

Change to all-weather tyres and fill up on anti-freeze.

Perhaps only the kids are happy, with a delayed

Arrival at school and perhaps a free day tomorrow,

As it’s set to freeze hard again, especially in the hills

While the rest of us just shrug and get on with it,

Hoping there won’t be a power cut and we can get

The drive shovelled before our extra-hour-long drive.


Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding ourselves

That we used to be used to this, this used to be usual,

And for once we can go skiing or sledding, so get that sleigh

Out of the shed, and if you have kids make a snowman –

Making sure to film them, for they mightn’t remember

All this in twenty years, and think it a fairy tale.

Take them to the woods at least, for the first time

This year, perhaps, without worrying about tick bites

Lyme Disease and the other nasty bugs they transmit.

The flies, too, are dropping like they’re famed to, but

Have been plaguing us on our patios till now, and

The mosquitos are also finally dying so Deet isn’t needed

To keep West Nile virus and Yellow Fever at bay, till spring.


Next spring there might be fewer lines of those

Poisonous processionary caterpillars for your dog to

Get mixed up with, if this hard frost penetrates their nests,

Giving foresters a break in their pine plantations, too.

The farmers will also be happy, since the grasshoppers

Aren’t nibbling at their sown winter cereals now, and

Perhaps a crop will come up green before next year’s

Eggs are hatched and ravenous at the sprouting stalks.


As for traffic, well, better have your car buried

By snow, which at least you can dig out of, than have

It carried off down the street by a flash flood, like

We saw during last month’s devastating torrential rains.


So, before we go to our roving reporters, a quick

Recap of international news, including new warming

Recorded in the Greenland icecap, and a typhoon

Threatening the already soaked and suffering Bengalis.


The End of the World is Nigh

The End of the World is Nigh


When the end of the world is nigh

They will tell us nothing, but let us

Go on, for what is the point of panic?


Hence we hear only a faintest whisper,

From those who have little time left

And no fear of living the chaos


Impending, no impact by outside rock;

But we have passed the point of no return:

Internal combustion causing climate

Change equal to our own destruction,

Plastic pollution disintegrating

Micro-particles integrating until

Clogging molecular mechanisms

As much as albatross digestive tracts,

With equal effect on our own baby.


Making the same silence met when

They found out and failed to raise

A finger, much less act, resound now,

For what worth screaming as we fall?




I know it’s been pretty depressing reading that.

But think about it.

The most recent IPCC report basically says we’re fucked if we don’t move like yesterday.

It is clear that action is the only option. It’s so much cheaper to stop the train than pick up the pieces after it crashes, unless you’re selling sandwiches on board…

The Vineyards of Spain are already seeing that climate change threatens the future of their brands.

Yet ecologists are still bickering about how to convince governments to do something – some think we need to show how much money the natural world gives to us for free or they won’t listen. Which is depressing – It won’t matter much if the environment breaks down. They’ll be convinced of it’s worth when it’s gone, like so many songs say.

Of course, we can have robot bees… (fuckwit idea right there just shows what we’re up against.)

Since the 70s, we’ve been warned, worried and have yet to act to do anything about Global Climate change.

Well, I say yet to act in any meaningful necessary way. I certainly try to use less energy than I could. I do all the right things in terms of waste and buying less, – I’ve even taken fewer flights and cut down on meat. But the big boys, they’ve done fuck all. The ones who could make a difference. The decision makers, as W used to call himself.

I remember the line in The War of the Worlds, where the parson’s wife says, “No, Nathanial no. There must be more to life. There has to be a way that we can restore to life, the love that we have known. And if one man can stand tall, there must be some hope for us all, somewhere in the spirit of man…”

Is there hope?

The world is being fucked by the 0.0001 % of the population. 700 out of more than 7000.0000,000 have the vast majority of the wealth. More money than they can ever use, even in their extravagance. And yet they don’t use it for good. A few do a couple of nice things, but really, what do they do except hide their money from us and the slim taxes they might have to pay?

As a meme asked the other day. “What happened when we all found out they were scamming us in the panama papers?


A much higher percentage of their money is spent paying lobbyists than on philanthropy. And if one of them decided to spend money getting the governments to go the other way (yes, I am assuming that they’re corrupt and influenced by these lobbyists. Let’s be real here.) perhaps it would save us.

Yet, even the good ones piss around playing with rockets.

Are they afraid to go directly up against the rich ones around them? Is there some code, some club or what?

Just countering the oil and coal men might do a great deal. Of course, perhaps that’s just a waste of money – the oilmen would counter with more of their own money.

So is there a solution?

I don’t know.

Part of me is convinced there isn’t. The time to act was back in the 70s and 80, or even the 90s, when there was something approaching a global vision of our planet. Now, we seem to be going backwards, to nationalism, xenophobia, intolerance and zero-sum game one-upmanship, even as the climate crisis forces millions to migrate – just a fraction of the number who will be dispossessed in a few decades if we don’t stop the train.

If there is a solution to the emergency, to me it is beginning to look a lot like revolution. It’s hard to boycott hedge funds and Wal-Mart. They have their fingers in so many holes.


I remember once when I was a kid, watching an interview with John Lennon, talking about his song and revolution.

He said we’d need the institutions that are usually broken in revolutions. People break infrastructure and burn down post offices and all that. Which were useful things people would need after the revolution, so it was stupid to destroy them.

And yet, the premise is becoming less and less robust as we progress. If we were to destroy the whole of New York City, wipe out the stock exchanges, the banks and government buildings of the major cities of the planet, it would still be better than allowing business as usual, given the scale of the damage these intuitions are doing to us.

It’s gotten that bad.

Which is why I’m writing this.

Of course, they won’t tell us that.

They don’t want us to panic.

God knows what we’d do if we were to panic…

We’d certainly clog up the roads and perhaps over run their golf courses.







Universal Connections



Universal Connections


I sit upon a hotel terrace,

Gazing out at grebes

Diving between white and yellow

Water lilies, trying to grasp our universe.


This Dark Matter they say

Gives gravity to our galaxy

Must mingle with us here on Earth,

Else why do I feel such linking

With other species, the lake life teeming?


I am entwined with these trees

More than merely exchanging molecules.


Reincarnation is reality. A part of me

Exists outside myself, with which I can commune;


Fragments of my former lives abound in this pond,

Fine portions of prior bodies populate the forest.

There’s a strand of me in that serene swan

Stately sliding, signets drawn behind like magnets.

These geese gliding in on the twilight and I

Share atoms. The stones under our feet,

Still throb with the vitality of ancient seas;

Our electrons once spun in the same shells

And yet retain the memory of those orbits.


Since the energy of starbursts vibrates on in ourselves,

These connections are impossible to erase,

We are one: our earth, the stars and empty reaches,

Really only fractals of an elementary existence.



I wrote that a couple of months ago while staying in this hotel, having breakfast on this terrace. Just to show there are positive poems going round my head too!


It was in the Netherlands, and the lake was man-made, created when dredging to make higher land elsewhere in town. The motorway went past behind those trees, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and the waterfowl didn’t care how their home was made. It shows that nature can come back strong when given a chance, even in the midst of our habitations.

Here’s another in the same vein, one of a few I was inspired to write that week…

As you can see from the photo at the bottom, it’s hard not to be inspired in that light.


Twinned with an Egret


They say every electron has a twin;

In space and time, while even atoms

Exist in two separate places at once.

Well, that would explain this affinity

For egrets and owls and willow trees.

Motes might not have the energy to

Escape gravity, but bits of bodies split:

My twins vibrate in other entities.




The Patience of a Gardener

Zen and the Art of Gardening


What better training for meditation

Than training vines along a trellis,

Winding each tendril through the

Frame, gently threading the trails

Under other branches to dangle

Just enough in the sun to shoot more,

The stems too short enforce a wait:

Patience until they can be tucked in,

Behind a stronger stick, weeks or longer

But soon, after some years, just, fronds

Hide the structure; lost like thoughts

Through the training, green grace gaining.


Acceptance of constraints and learning

Yet, for every yin a yang and yearning

To grow we know some still unable

To conceive the concept of what a

Plant implies, portents to be, and see

The straining ungainly, slicing at green

With a pair of shears, wreaking

Destruction tsunami like, leaving

Tender tendrils to push forth once

Again, taking time to train, regain

The sense of self through restraint.



The idea is to make this concrete retaining wall disappear beneath ivy and honeysuckle. Somebody with a shears thinks that the best way is to cut back the new growth to stimulate more growth…

it’s an ongoing situation. Time is hopefully on my side…


The Man with the Shears


Seems the man with the shears will always win…


We coax and encourage fronds to sprout forth,

Watching, enjoying each tiny new leaf burst

In a verdant self-creating sculpture, we wonder

What shapes it will take as we wait while it grows


Doing our best to protect from frost, but we know

The pruner needs pounce only once a year

Undoing all our efforts with his sharpened shears,


And we must go back to coaxing, and just hoping

The trunk grows a little stronger in between setbacks,

Each year more resistant to withstand these attacks.






International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.


At the End of the Days


Ultimately, if our civilization

Can’t continue without further

Ecological destruction and

Genocide of tribal peoples,

It’s not very fucking advanced.



I wrote this the other day after Reading Gary Snyder’s The Old Ways.

Then I heard that August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Here’s a video.

The main point about allowing people to live the way they always have is to understand that they are not “Stone Age,” nor primitive, and that if they have not already become part of our globalised civilisation it is because they do not want to, not because they’re too ignorant to know better. They do know better. They have heard of the ways of the world outside and they have rejected it. Sometimes because of a very real fear for their lives.

Second thing is to understand that the land they live on, if it belongs to anyone, belongs to them. We need to stay the hell out of there – and that mostly  includes loggers, miners, ranchers, palm oil producers… all those nice people…

Here’s another video. As it asks, how long could you last alone in the forest?

On the other hand, how long do you think it would take one of the Yanomami kids, currently being affected by a measles epidemic,  to figure out how to play FIFA on your playstation?

Five minutes, is the answer to both….


As Snyder said back in the 70s, to be able to survive off what the land under your feet provides is a sign of extreme advancement. Our society can’t do that. it needs so much more…

here’s another poem.




Balance comes in all we observe;

It is a fundament of our Universe:

Strong forces and electromagnetism

Keep atoms unified or flimsy, gravity

Balanced with a satellite’s speed keep it

Spinning instead of spiralling away.

So too on our planet, as the mountains

Rise, so the earth underneath goes ever

Deeper. In our humanity we see the same

Climbing by pushing down others: leisure

Comes only by enslaving or exploiting,

Creating peasants and proletariats;

Cites spread by denuding vast areas outside;

And imperialism depends upon

Ecological destruction.



I donate 10% of my royalties on the Silver Nights Trilogy to Survival International.

The planet needs them, and they need us.







The Lepidopterist’s Dream

Turning on a mountain track

We stumble upon a lepidopterist’s dream:

Butterflies abounding, bouncing from

Bramble to buttercup, clover to cornflower;

A dancing profusion of colour in heat

Haze of August morning amplified

By the addition of dragonflies, damsel

Flies, hoverflies and bumblebees, with

A host of other insects humming and

It occurred to me, that there were once

Such sights in my own suburbs, along

The hedgerows down below and beyond.

That once everywhere outside the city

Centre was an entomologist’s dream, and

The countryside the same for ornithologists

Now they lament the stark scenes

Silent callows empty of corncrakes, and

The bees barely seen in park trees,

Moths no longer litter windscreens

Of a night drive, and these hills, though

Still roamed by pigs and roe, seems so

Similar to those of South Africa, they should

Also hold antelope, lions and leopards

And once they did, until all were lost,

Along with the bison, auroch, and rhinos.


As for the sea, it also should be teeming

They say in the seventeenth century,

Thrashing tails were seen from shore.

Now trawlers roam for days, and only

Coral reefs this century remain, as

The bramble banks of the sea. Yet

How long can its rainbow dance continue?

We watch their wonderful choreography

Holding on to those tiny joys to keep going

But the world is crumbling, we are bumbling

While the coral is bleached clean. Unless we care

More than before, these brambles will be as bare.




if you zoom in, you should be able to see some of the hundreds of butterflies up along this track. I took a video, but it wasn’t very steady…

My odyssey with the Spanish civil service exams.

I’ve been away from my blog for months now. But I have an excuse. I was studying for the “Oposiciones” in Education here in Navarra, where to get the scant few permanent teaching positions offered by the local education dept. once every two, or three, or four, or five years (there’s no rhyme or reason to the timing) dozens, or hundreds (depending on the subject) of teachers all compete against one another to see who’s the best teacher in the whole wide world and the lad at the top of the heap after the cage fight gets his pick of the jobs.

Sounds like a great system, I hear you say. The teachers must be the best in the world – eff you, Finland!

Eh, no. As you might have guessed, it’s a pile of shite.

Anyone who’s watched The Maze Runner, or The Hunger Games or a load of other flicks, knows it’s no way to choose a teacher. This wasn’t even like that. It’s more like the Japanese flick, Battle Royale. If you haven’t seen it, well, watch it. Japan is up there with Finland, after all!

I whinged against the system when I went to get my driving test renewed. Why tell you all this sorry tale? Well, just to get it off my chest. See, I didn’t win. I didn’t go home with a prize job.

I know I shouldn’t have bothered with the whole process, if I’m just going to call it bullshit. And yet many tell me I should be happy with my performance, that I’ll do well enough next time.


These same folk say that I didn’t spend much time on the exams, to have done so well (I am the nearest to passing – so I am like the best loser!).

There are some who spend years studying for this process. They take time off work to study, put off having kids till they’ve won their job for life.

But I did spend a couple of months of my life doing sweet eff all else with my brain than thinking about this exam.

I spent my life learning English, for one.

I spent a month on and off writing up a curriculum plan for a school year in the subject, and a unit plan from that.

I spent a weekend doing literary analyses of texts,

I spent two months going through the 69 areas they could examine us on. Reading reams of information on everything from linguistics to the circulation figures of the Daily Sun, with the history of the British Isles and America in between.

And let’s just say I’ve been studying a lot of that since I was able to turn on the TV and stare up at the test signal of the BBC till the Saturday morning programs started.

I also decided to read through Leaves of Grass, since Whitman was on the list (got through most of Song of Me, but there’s a good 80% of the book left to go). I found a PD James novel on my shelf, which was a good read, and I went back over my Wordsworth. There wasn’t time for more. Henry James was a bad idea to even try. The Ambassadors went back to the library after the event with just two chapters waded through.

I had the first exam on a Saturday evening at 8pm. Seriously. At least the heat was lessened compared to the sauna the other exams before us must have been. That was the bright side. God forbid they use a school with AC for exams in the end of June and July.

A bingo selection told us which five topics we had to choose from out of those 69 we’d all prepared.

I got lucky.

The Lost Generation. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner.

Now, I’ve never read Faulkner. He’s on the list, but hasn’t made it onto the bog with me yet. But the rest. Well, I’ve been studying those lads for a long time!

I’ve read all of Hemingway, have read his Biographies, been to his house in Oak Park, visited the Hemingway room in the JFK library in Boston and read his letters from the woman who inspired A Farewell to Arms (well, his injuries inspired it, probably, but the girl is more interesting!)

I studied Gatsby for the Leaving Cert., have read most of Steinbeck, including the unfinished Arthurian works. That’s years of study on this topic. I’d gone over the material on the exam website I’d found a few days before. It was all fresh in my head.

We weren’t allowed to take our own pens, so I wrote with a tissue wrapped around the bic, sweating and sliding.

Twelve pages.

I gave them details that weren’t in the website.

They gave me 5.9 out of ten.

Now, considering I was writing in my first language (and I’ve a bit of practice with the old writing lark…), you can imagine that most of the poor Spanish folk around me fell at the first hurdle.

Except the few who’d been studying the system, however they found out about it. And gave the tribunal exactly what they wanted. I clearly didn’t.

Turns out the people correcting the exam are just some poor sods selected out of a bingo ball, and know no more about the topics than anyone else in the system. Less than me, in the case of the three novelists mentioned. But they have a rubric, and anything off that rubric, be it valid info or not, is irrelevant.

Can we see the rubric?

Can we see our exams to see where we went wrong, what we could have improved?

Don’t be stupid! Of course you can’t.

Do you think the idea is to help people get past the post?

You’ve not been paying attention.

As an aside, at this point, let’s think about how often I’ve used my extensive knowledge of the Lost Generation in an English as a foreign language class… or in a Literature class in Spain…

Apart from reminding Pamplona inhabitants that their town is super famous because of the guy whose statue stands beside the bullring, who was an American writer, absolutely never. Nor would I have used my knowledge of the various channels making up ITV, or the details of Cromwell’s stint in power in the UK (though of course I always take any opportunity to tell anyone who’ll listen what an absolute bollox the man was).

The next exam was called the practical test.

I passed that too.

I got 5.125.

So did one other person in my tribunal. The one who knew the system, had studied. I don’t know her, but fair balls to her. She got 8.4 in the first test.

A practical test, let’s remember. On how well your English is.

Well, I got 3 out of 3 on Use of English. Filling in blanks. A breeze for me. Took ten minutes, so I had an hour and a half or more to write the answer to the literary analysis. I wrote my maximum 400 words and explained the shit out of the text.

I got 2.125 out of 5. A fail. What did they want from me? Fuck knows. Perhaps blood. I took a rubber penholder with me, so my fingers didn’t bleed.

Then I spent ten minutes pissing in the wind, as if I could pick up any of the remaining two points.


I know most Spanish teachers who studied English as a language to teach would have studied that, but I only went through the main ideas on the Internet page. It’s not something a native speaker needs to know. In fact, it’s pretty redundant nowadays.

Nevertheless, the task was to translate a text into phonetics.

RP, the tribunal president asked us politely. Please use Received Pronunciation.


I know how to speak in RP when I need to.

I tell my students not to copy the way I say cup, or bus, or Dublin. Instead I show them how to say it the way Donald Trumps newest fan would as she walks along with him admiring the horses.

But when I read the phonetics, it says the symbol is pronounced like you say ‘Mother,” with the same sound for each syllable. Try say it. Go on. I can’t even write how to do it. I’d have to know more phonetics. But I can say it. Though in Ireland those two syllables are very very different! Muder.

Anyway. It was like translating into Braille or Morse code. If you knew it, well enough.

But I was one of only 24 who got through the first round. Out of 300, divided in three tribunals.

So all congratulated me (they’re accustomed to hearing about failure). But as I said, I’d studied most of my life for those exams. And I wasn’t impressed with my scores.

Nobody was impressed with their scores. They were marked down like a deadbeat professor who flings the exam booklets down the stairs and gives the ones which reach the bottom an A and the rest a C.

The oral defence of the programs I’d handed in were the next hurdle.


Everyone seemed to pass that part, if they got to it.

I spent a week going over the thing, memorising it, writing out notes to later transcribe in the preparation time they give you.

But I was nervous. I needed to do this well.

I did it well.

I went in with a smile, stood up on the teaching platform and told them all about my planning, how to do the unit, what the students did, how it helped them, how they were evaluated, what I’d do for kids with higher or lower levels than the average.

All that good stuff.

And they nodded and smiled and took notes. The president filled out her rubric. And when I asked if they’d any questions, I got just one, given in a pronunciation I found hard to understand, after 11 years teaching English to Spanish people.

I answered it. She seemed to accept the answer.

Nobody else spoke, bar the president, who thanked me and I left. I never heard the other three English teachers speaking a word of English. Maybe I intimidated them. Who knows.

I went home happy, and even wondered where I might have to work next year.

I didn’t allow anyone celebrate, but everyone saw it as a given, a foregone conclusion.

But I got 4.15 out of ten. Not the 5 I needed to pass and get that job.

How a tribunal can let someone who’s failing in front of their eyes walk out without asking them a question is beyond me, as a teacher, and it should have been beyond them as teachers (and as folk who’d been through the same process in their own time).

It was a defence. With 15 minutes for questions.

I could have defended anything they objected to.

If I’d been given the chance.

But being given the chance is not the process, of course.

It’s being so perfect that they can’t avoid giving you the point, or they’d be breaking the law.

It’s being forced to have someone take the teaching position (which is open, which needs a person to teach some real kids in a real school in a real town in the region) because it’s simply unavoidable.

So of the 300 people trying to get 31 places, 20 got places (four people failed the defence, me with the nearest to passing).

And the 12 unfilled positions will go to temporary posts, changing each year as new temps come and go. A great way to be educated, with a new teacher every year.

I’m sure the Fins would be impressed.


by the way, you can still get all my books on sale with Smashwords!


Planting for the next Century



Where Should I Plant this Sapling?


They say a man plants

A tree, not for himself, but

For his descendants. Well,

I agree, and have seen

The benefits of a mulberry

Planted by a man I never met,

More than a century past.


As the sentinel starts to sag

I’ve saved a sapling from

Between its roots and would

Take the next step for my

Generation before it falls.


But where would it prosper?

I fear the weather

Will not favour the same spot

As its forefather for much longer

Than half its lifetime,

And ere it gives fullest fruits

Will stand in different clime.


So, where should I plant this sapling

In a changing world?


Where its roots can anchor the eroding soil

As farmers harvest down to the last?


On a slope so the children of this village

Can reach the lower limbs

To stain fingers and lips on

Summer afternoons, should

Any remain after rains have

Deserted the landscape?


In a ditch to take some advantage

Of rich dampness as the rest

Of fields blister in the sun?


Or on a high knoll to stay dry

While surrounding ground soaks

Under incessant thunderstorms,

Turning this aridness instead wet?


It seems a bet to hedge;

I should plant a score

From hill to shore.





I rested upon some leaves of grass this morning;

Dabbling as the park drakes dipped in the rippling

Pond shimmering sunlight reflections against green:

The distant traffic as irrelevant as desert sand dunes

Beyond the screen, for all the notice the ducks took,

And us, aware of such, see what they mean

By oasis.


Escaping the City

Though the rains have returned, it’s still kinda nice enough to get out of the city these days.

And it’s so nice to do so.

The orchids are up in the Valdorba, and the thyme blooming.


Unfortunately, the rains have increased the erosion in many places where there’s not enough vegetation to hold the soil. This bunch of thyme is clinging on, but you can see the rocks breaking away from the side of the gully behind it.

And yes, that is recently burnt vegetation behind the orchid… some farmers just don’t get that scrub serves to hold their soil from washing away down to the Ebro and silt it up, which they complain about later when the farms on the floodplain… flood.


Hopefully the other plants can grow and help slow down further breaks.


Here’s a poem I wrote recently about getting into the countryside.


Birdsong Outside the City


Something calls, unseen, to me

Hidden in a willow tree of a copse

Alongside a swift river tugging

Tangled dangling fronds and

Flooding islands, a place

Providing people only invitation,


Unheard above the cars of

The city where blackbirds scream,


A small, soft, birdsong twittering

Like a signal, reverberating in

This stillness, resonating


As far as childhood; deeper,

Into bones, birth, bringing

Relief like a lost boy seeing

Family, safety, a memory.


A song saying stay, for whenever

Could one return?