Monthly Archives: July 2016

Misgivings

Lavender.jpg

 

An Absence in Abundance

 

Lavender lays sideways under the weight of wind and blossom

But the bees clinging to the swaying stalks are few and far between.

An exuberance of blooms festoon the garden; from geraniums to clover,

But the butterflies are almost all white. Where is the abundance?

The humming profusion we should see before us?

The insects are ever scarcer on the farm – apart from houseflies –

And sparrows are ousting the house martins.

Those looking closely can see the cracks and give voice

To our misgivings that something’s got to give.

The Wolf, Farmers, Forest Guards, and Fraud

Last week in Asturias, a northern province of Spain where wolves are protected, a group of twenty were prosecuted for fraud. They’d shared a booty of up to two hundred thousand Euros between them.

They had been faking wolf attacks on their livestock and claiming the compensation which the government gives to replace the sheep and cows that any wolf might have killed.

The group was made up of nine farmers and eleven forest guards they were in cahoots with They couldn’t have gotten away with it for so long if not for the forest guards who claimed these were indeed real attacks. Any forest guard who was not getting part of the money would have seen straight away they were fake.

This accounts for a full fifth of the one million euros that Asturias pays annually in compensation.

In 2014, several farmers were caught getting paid double for their losses – claiming insurance for the loss of livestock as well as the compensation for wolf attacks.

But apart from the monetary damage they’ve done, stealing from the public purse, they’ve contributed to the vilification of the endangered predator, making it seem more dangerous to farming than it really is, and pushing public opinion against it’s continued protection and spread into former territories from which it was eradicated in the last century.

In the last few months several wolves have been killed illegally and their heads hung in various places.

wolf head

Wolf head hung at a crossroads in Asturias – image from El Pais newspaper article linked below.

Hatred driven by lies?

The Spanish Civil Guard police think so – they say the animal has been criminalised and this fraud has led to an atmosphere of rejection of the animal.

The statistics of wolf attacks were skewed for years. The numbers of wolf-kills farmers claimed was considered “inexplicable from a biological, physical and mechanical point of view.” Once the numbers of claims were presented in a report (65 paid out in one year on one farm alone, for example) the year later there were drastically fewer claims.

Farmers in areas of wolf recolonisation (for example those south of the River Duero) have resisted the recolonisation of the predator on the basis of false data. In fact, the wolf kills very few livestock and there is less to fear in terms of possible losses than the numbers indicate.

Not only that, it leads us to ask the question, how many more farmers might be trying to fleece the system? How many other attacks have been real? How many fake?

The compensation payments are a useful step towards trying to bridge the gap between farmers and ecologists, two groups who don’t usually see eye to eye in Spain (the farmers often claim that the activists – there’s a difference between ecologos, the scientists, and ecologistas, the activists, in Spanish – have no idea how the countryside actually works when they come up with their plans and laws).

Forest guards claim that farmers pressure them, and even threaten them to get them to sign a death by natural causes, or lightning strike, as caused by wolf attack, and many have been sued. Farmers buy cheap horses and leave them alone on the mountain so they’ll be attacked by wolves, since the compensation is more than the horse was worth.

No ecologist claims wolf reintroduction, or protection, is, or will be, completely conflict free. Yet if the farmers pretend that there are more problems than there really are, what are we to do?

One wonders how many wolf attacks would be reported if there were no compensation at all, if it were just a data-collection exercise. If such fraud is found to be more widespread, there might be some calls to find out.

After all, science cannot be carried out on the basis of economic fraud. We need to know the real figures. Otherwise how are we to guide the reintroduction efforts in other countries?

Spring Dusk, a poem

Spring Dusk

 

The last song of the thrush before nightfall,

The final swings through the sky before swifts eventually settle:

The ensuing silence – if you can find it – as dusk sinks in

And pink clouds vanish into black.

 

These call out, loud as swift screams

To all who have ears:

Open the windows, shut off everything else,

 

Watch the darkness descend and catch the bats first flight;

You are alive now, but might not last the night.

 

 

churchdusk

My time-sensitive project

Sometimes you see a book come out exactly at the right time.

That’s luck, perhaps, or good planning. But then, there can be a slew of books on the same subject that are all on the mark, in fashion, ready to make that hay while the sun shines, and strike the iron while it’s hot.

I’ve never been one to jump on the bandwagon. The wagon usually goes too fast for me and I end up on my arse in the dust, or worse; the mud.

Many thought it was time to write an erotic novel after Shades of Grey went viral. I didn’t, but I wrote some anyway. They haven’t lit up any lists yet.

When my first werewolf novel came out, I was asked if I wrote it in teh wake of the Twilight trilogy. I wrote it twenty years before.

At the moment I’m writing a novel concerning the illegal wildfires in Ireland during the last two Aprils and the current government’s willingness to change the law so the farmers can do what they like when it comes to the environment. So it would be best to get the novel out as soon as possible to be current. However, it’s taking longer than I thought (it always does).

At the same time, it should not matter so much because I hope that in twenty years time the novel will still have its impact, like a novel set during the AIDS crisis of the late eighties still impacts us now just as much.

The novel is on hold this summer because I’ve got another time-sensitive project on my hands – one that can’t be put off, like putting up firewood can’t be ignored if one wants to live through the winter.

Time will pass, and though I will have other chances in the future to continue this project (and will have to) it’s at a critical stage right now and I have to take advantage of the time I have right now to apply to it – something that’s a luxury which thousands of others might envy me of.

The project is a little human. A mini-me, as it were; my six-month old son.

 

Boy Books Booze.jpg

Books, Booze and a little Boy – Be warned: the three don’t necessarily mix very well…

 

I’ve got him – and his older sister; at her own critical stage of development – for the summer. He’s a time-intensive creature. He will be crawling soon and I’ve already accepted the fact that he’ll do his best to wreck my house.

But it is time well invested. I’m sure he’s a quick study – already clapping hands and holding out his dodie to me, then laughing as he takes it back.

Mainly, though, the means, the brainpower to think of other projects is being sucked away. He barely gives me time to clean the house while he sleeps and prepare his purees and fruit.

Many other parents know what I’m experiencing – it’s probably light compared to some nightmares, but for a writer, at least this one, it’s easy to start projects in spare moments but hard to tie a story all together without long stretches of quiet concentration.

So I’ll not bother. I’ll have a rest – as far as that goes – a holiday. I’ll go back to my books – the long list of novel spines staring at me from my bookshelves – and relax my brain. And I’ll read aloud, to let my son listen to the rhythm of one of his native tongues.

 

 

Lines written in Pamplona

In the thick of the festival of San Fermines now.

san Fermin

A couple of dangerous and incident-filled bull runs the last two days. Reminds us that this is not a joke, and it reminded many of us of the way the bull runs used to be – before anti-slip coatings and better street surfaces.

I’ve been busy with kids and having meals with friends on our street, and have only gotten to see the fire works once, the bull runs on the telly, and haven’t been near the bull ring yet.  It reminds me of a poem I wrote during my first San Fermin festival – exactly 20 years ago (my mother-in-law was astounded when I told her we met that long ago!).

Lines Written in Pamplona

 

I have held my red bandana aloft,

Tied it round my neck

And worn it proudly:

Opened champagne at noon;

Held a candle at midnight.

Sung and danced and drank and walked and watched

And smiled in between.

But to experience San Fermin;

You need to have no need for sleep,

A body unaffected by alcohol,

The pulling power of James Bond,

The stamina and sperm count of a bull;

A bottomless stomach, to hold all there is to taste,

The ability to float above the crowds, so dense;

And omnipresence.

 

16/7/96

Yes, that was in the days when you could take a bottle into the packed Plaza Consistorial – and I was a young man!

Now I spend the afternoons doing thinks like bringing my kids up on the big wheel and having a picnic as the heat of the day dies down.

Big wheel

And another poem, before my first ever San Fermin lunch, of which my son just shared his first ever this year – he’s 7 months.

Lines Written in a Spanish Home

 

A stranger sitting at a Spanish table,

Eating things he never thought of

In ways he never knew,

Listening to the lunchtime

Talk of the household,

In another language he does not know;

But understanding something of the banter,

Wishing he could speak;

Thinking;

If, he could

Live like this.

 

5/7/96

 

 

San Fermines 2016

Things are all set here in Pamplona for this year’s famed “running of the bulls” festival.

The barriers which will keep the bulls from the public on their way through the town are in place, the TV cameras are set up along the route, the stages are constructed in various plazas.

Plaza castillo

La Plaza del Castillo, with San Fermin figures over the band stand and the stage ready for concerts.

 

Santo Domingo

Bull Run Barriers along Santa Domingo and the Town Hall square, with some tourists taking in the scene.

 

Today is the day of the Peñas. This afternoon we were treated to a parade of giants, and this weekend many folk are getting a head start on the carousing.  I’ll hear how hard the party is later tonight as the stragglers stagger home past my bedroom balcony.

Estefeta javier.jpg

Giants dancing along Calle Estafeta.

estefeta.jpg

The corner of Mercaderes and Estafeta will have bulls rather than giants taking the corner come Thursday morning.

I’ve written about the fiesta before, but a few things are worth mentioning this year –

The new city council have taken the pains to put recycling dumpsters in place as the replace the vacuum refuse disposal system for the festival, which is a great thing for the environment, considering the enormous tonnage of trash produced during the festival.

They have also decided to spray hydrophobic pain on the walls of many streets to discourage the out of hand urination that takes place  – believe me, I’ve seen some stuff, and it’s just ridiculous, so I hope it’s a help, so when we walk through the town with our kids in the morning, we’re not jumping streams of urine.

Last, but not least, my good friend JD Martins has a great novella which will give you a glimpse of the whole thing in 25 thousand words, with a great story and some sexy scenes to boot!

One_Night_in_Pamplona_by_JD_Martins-500

And as one of the characters says – if you want to run with the bulls, you have to stay more than one night. Study the route, figure out where you want to run, read about it, watch the videos of the previous runs, and get to bed early the night before. It’s no joke. You wouldn’t want your One Night in Pamplona to be your last night on the planet.