Category Archives: Writing

Reasons to have kids in your twenties

It’s my son’s birthday today. He’s three. I’m nearly 45. Not necessarily a problem, but my back is not as good as it could be when he’s climbing up on my shoulders…

Yesterday the downstairs neighbour phoned at 7.45am to ask if we could get the child to not run along the hall so loudly.  Not the child’s fault. This nice 1860’s house we live in, though, tends to reverberate like a 13kilo kid is Harrison Bergeron stomping through the rooms.

It reminded me of a poem I wrote a while back, though. I’ve plenty of ex-students who, though fifteen years younger than I, started having their kids at the same age as I. They didn’t get the good sense from their former teacher, but they’re showing their intelligence all the same!

Regardless of your age, I hope you enjoy. Sorry I’ve no photos of actual kids – mine aren’t allowed on the internet.

 

Reasons to have kids in your 20s.

They’ll say you’re stupid; it’s too early,

But don’t listen to their insistence on

Being stable, for kids are earthquakes

Set to undermine any well-laid foundations

So have them while your world is still whirling.

 

Forget that financial comfort buffer,

Which could crack as easily as the flat-screen

You can finally afford. It’s easy to deny

When you don’t have to give. Best let their

Screams of injustice at the sound of no

Echo in an empty house you don’t even own

As you spend decades in a shithole renter

Which becomes somebody else’s problem

Once you leave the safety deposit behind

Along with crayon on the wall and peeled paint.

Better that than they destroy the decent

House you deserve by your forties, and tears

Are indecent in front of a toddler, no matter

How he gouges the hardwood floor, or

Scratches the CDs you kept all those years

Nor tears the copy of the Hobbit you took

To three continents before “settling down.”

Children’s laughter sounds sweeter living

In a house where there’s nothing much to break.

 

The sleep you’ll never get with young kids

You don’t even need yet.

You’re awake all night now, so why not

Stick a bottle in a baby’s mouth while

Watching midnight marathons of Netflix films?

 

In your forties, eight hours is no longer a luxury;

It’s a necessity. But they’ll be out at pyjama parties,

If you’re smart, in other people’s houses.

 

One thing you learn when you become a parent, is

You’re never ready, nor ever could be

No matter how long you wait

So have them early and

When everything steadies, you’ll be ready for

Relaxation while you’re still young enough

To be worth going on holiday with.

 

After all, all the energy you yet have

Once they’re grown up and gone,

They’ll have use of just as much as you;

When the grandkids come calling

And they’re crawling and climbing, finding

Fragile items for pawing, and falling.

 

 

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A blogpost in place of a poem

I lost a friend the other day, died of cancer, the way many do, after a decade or more living with the disease in varied bouts of beating and being beaten.

I often write a poem when someone important dies. This time no words came out of the void in a shape that made me think it should be a poem.

Perhaps it was because I found out the news over the internet – one of the few positive points about some social media sites that at least some use it for good, if sad actions. Many of his friends found out the same way. At the time I was in work, teaching in a school where nobody knows nor knew Tamir Teichman. As I found out when my grandmother died while I was in Boston, school kids don’t need to know about what’s going on behind the smile when you greet them in the classroom. The show goes on. So I’d little time to digest the news and let my memories return the way it would be needed to write a poem.

Instead, it’s a blog post.

Tamir bikeride.jpgI worked with Tamir for several years when I lived in Boston. We were two of three people in the CHS science dept., along with Anna Power, who’d been Tamir’s student teacher. They taught chemistry and physics, while I taught biology. We had three classes in a row, mine in the middle, joined by interior doors. We went in and out of one another’s class all the time, often leaving the doors open if one of us needed to use the bathroom. He made reagents for my experiments when I ran out, and was a great colleague. He was also a great teacher, who taught me a lot, and I hope in my own career some of what I learned from him has stuck and been transmitted to my own classroom.  He never varied in his frank and honest approach to his classes and the students. He was the same person in the classroom and out. His methods sometimes clashed with the administration’s views of how classrooms should be run, especially those of a new headmaster who after a couple of years fired Tamir – the laws in America are not usually much help to employees. The union had been ousted before I started in CHS and we had a right to work agreement in place of a contract.  Tamir saw the writing on the wall, but never changed the way he went about things. As far as the students are concerned, his way was clearly the right way to do things, as his friends could see on social media when a huge number of people declared he was the best teacher they’d ever had.

He was one of the best colleagues I ever had, I can tell you. And one of the best friends. We spent a lot of time together during the seven years I lived there, from going out for drinks on Fridays with the other teachers, to cycling along the Charles River on Saturdays, to a road trip we took in a U-Haul truck, taking some of his mother’s antique furniture from storage down in Boca Raton up to Brookline – a trip from Miami to Maine, all told. Living in rental accommodation, I was delighted to help him out in his garden, doing a little bit of landscaping in his house and the summer camp his family have on the shores of one of the lakes of Maine, where he’d invited me and my wife and we’d take in the wildlife and the silence. I’ve experienced fewer more peaceful places in the world – even in Wicklow the wind is always in your ears!

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Tamir on the open road

 

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At Kitty Hawk

 

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Tamir and my wife out on the lake

A dedicated environmentalist, he saved everything, from school materials to bike parts. One of his, and my, great disappointments was to see the old vintage benches of the labs torn up and thrown out rather than taken by an antiques dealer – it would have made an amazing pub bar. Before he left CHS, we donated lots of old chemicals and materials to one of my former student teachers who’d started in a charter school that needed stuff (in America, many schools rely on charity to do the best they can for their kids). He taught me how to cool a house at night and keep the heat out during the day, and for drinking glasses he used really lovely old jam jars to serve freshly squeezed orange juice in the humid summer.

He died after a long illness, which though debilitating at times never stopped him from his work as athletic coach, nor slowed him down on a bike ride – he outpaced me easily. He’d left another school since then, and was working in a less stressful job when I last talked to him.

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Our last bike ride along the Charles.

His mother had moved in with him, but she’d died just recently, coincidentally, or perhaps not. He was single, with two siblings living overseas and their children, two aged aunts and some cousins.

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Tamir in his mother’s car before we took a drive around Miami

 

Yet he leaves many, many mourning his passing. He leaves a multitude of memories among his friends and colleagues, and he has made a significant mark on the lives of his students. They will keep him alive. His actions have their ripples though the times to come, having helped form adults who will work to make this world, their world, a better place than the way it was when they were thrown it.

Whatever your view on the afterlife –I’ve no idea of Tamir’s, since we never talked much about religion, other than about his family’s history of having survived the Holocaust – one thing I’ve learned from this sad episode is that your actions during life will reflect on what happens when you die. Perhaps you’ll have a lot of kids to attend your funeral, have family to pray for your passage through purgatory and onto the pearly gates. Maybe you won’t. Yet even if you don’t, never think that your life hasn’t touched someone, that someone won’t mourn your absence, won’t think wistfully of the time you smiled at them, offered help, extended a hand, said a kindly word, gave your honest opinion and made them ponder, wonder, reconsider, feel some emotion.

As I said on social media, mostly directed at my (our) former students who knew Tamir, nobody dies who lives on in memories. Tamir will never be lost from the thoughts of those who knew him. His positive energy will reverberate though our worlds.

Sometimes when a person dies, we say, well, thank god they’re gone. Think of Margaret Thatcher…. I’ve experienced a few of those thoughts. There are some people who are just arseholes. Even children and grandkids can be glad to get shut of their elderly parents and grandparents, truth be told.

Other times, after the sadness comes a smile, a contentedness, a (cold) comfort, that at least you had the privilege to meet that man, to know that woman.

That’s what I feel now, a few days later. I know my life has been enriched for knowing Tamir and hanging out with him.

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chilling out in Saint Augustine, Fl. Rest well, T.

I only hope a little of his teaching style rubbed off on me, and that when I die, some at least will say something similar of me.

 

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?

Nothing.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

5/8/18

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….

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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.

 

Equilibrium

 

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.

5/8/18

 

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.

 

 

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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.

Cheers.

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.

Phonetics.

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.

Wow.

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.

Easy.

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!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/djmobrien

 

Planting for the next Century

 

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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.

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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

Spring has sprung… or has it started?

While Spring officially started at the beginning of the month back home in Ireland, in Spain we are still in the middle of winter, with the next season only set to start in another month on the 21st of March.

 

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the walls of Pamplona dusted with snow

It is, I admit, the height of skiing season, but even here, the daffodils are shooting up and will soon burst buds, the crocuses in the parks are spotting the grass, and I even saw a few daisy and dandelions the other day. The trees are mostly still bare, but showers of catkins have popped out on a few.

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my daughter gathering snow for a snowball fight before it melts

Mostly, though, you can just smell it. The air is different. Despite the snow that we had last week, there’s a feeling of spring that even humans living in a city still experience.

Spring is here, as far as I am concerned.

And summer isn’t far behind. For I saw the bats take their first flight of the year and it reminded me of a poem I wrote last year on the subject of signs of summer, more than spring. It’s perhaps a little premature to be thinking about butterflies and bees, but since I haven’t posted a poem in a while, here it is.

 

Signs of Summer

 

There are many signs of summer coming, here,

Starting perhaps with cuckoo calls and swallow sighting

And the return of the swifts, or

The first flight of the bats at twilight,

The scent of honeysuckle through open balconies and

The abundance of butterflies on the garden lavender,

Some are specific to Spain, like closing the blinds

Against sunlight to keep the house cool, and

Sleeping with the windows open all night

Pouring water to fill the swimming pool and others

Seen only in this city: setting up the tombola,

Putting the fences around the flowers in the park

In preparation for the festivals and digging up

The road to get it ready for the running of the bulls,

And lastly, putting up with the stench of piss

Upon opening up the street door every morning.