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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.



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.


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.


Saving Salamanders etc.

Among the things I’ve done this summer, is take part in the village festivals. It’s a very small village, but very village has its festival, even if it’s just a dinner for the one family left there. During ours, one of my jobs is to help with the kids game where they’ve to break a flowerpot with a bat, to get at some sweets inside.



It’s called a botijo. It’s like a piñata, but more heavy duty – hence the bike helmet. The older kids are blindfolded to make it interesting. And to spice things up, in one of the pots, instead of candy, lies a creature of some kind – usually a frog or a toad.

It’s been my job to catch said amphibian for the last few years.

This year, instead of a frog, we’d many. And salamanders and newts into the bargain. About twenty or so animals all told (very small, on the whole – there was plenty of room in the flowerpot!).

I’ve no photo of that pot or its contents, because I’m too busy running the event to take photos, and the one above was sent to me since it’s my own daughter knocking the pot to pieces. However, when the pot was cracked open, there was pandemonium.

As you’d expect.

But not for the reason you’d expect.

There were kids everywhere, trying to catch the fleeing animals. And catch them they did, much more eagerly than they’d gathered the sweets that had been scattered for them earlier (in the pot piñata, they know that the sweets are for the kids who breaks the pot, so they hold back).

Once they’d caught them, some of the older kids wanted to keep them. We didn’t allow them, of course, but it shows how starved these kids are for such experiences, and how enthusiastic they are to have them. Another example of the urge to rewild ourselves that George Monbiot describes.

And yet, some of the adults (parents of these delighted kids handling the amphibians) were critical of me and my fellow amphibian catchers for capturing the creatures

It is good that they were concerned for the animals, but at the same times it’s easy to criticise from a position of ignorance. These were mostly people who would scream if they touched one, and who wouldn’t know where to go to see one if it hadn’t landed on the lawn in front of them.

I find that those who can catch such animals are usually the same people who love them, and would not harm them.

The simple reason we’d so many amphibians this year was because we’ve not had rain for over a month and there were scores trapped in a disused swimming pool that had dried up. Only a layer of pine needles in the bottom provided any moisture to keep alive those that were still alive – most of the big frogs and toads had died. Only a week before forty salamanders were rescued from their certain death, and a couple of fat snakes which had had easy pickings. We had collected the remaining animals we could find.

So, while we’d some fun giving the kids a new experience with the animals, we’d not gone and collected scores of salamanders from their pools, but saved them from certain (and unknown, unremarked) deaths, and as soon as they’d been collected, set them free in a 2-metre-deep pool fed from the village spring and never let dry up – and filled to the brim so any which wanted to leave could seek pastures new.

Which was what I saw happening later, when, ironically, I went to that pool to capture a frog again – a much more difficult exercise, I can tell you!

The salamanders, and some frogs, were on their way out of the already busy pond, no doubt to find less congested environs where competition for insects is less.

I’d been asked to get a frog by a Montessori teacher trainer, who’d a course two days later on how to teach the five classes of vertebrates to kids. She’d never used a frog for the course, despite the fact that the course material uses a frog as an example, and had always had to rely on a fish provided by a colleague who’d a pet goldfish in a tank at home.

She’d never know known how to go about getting a frog before….

I showed her. It required patience. And man, was it hot in the sun that afternoon.

But these are the things animal lovers do to spread the word about the creatures we care about.


Saint Pat’s as an Ex Pat….

Happy Saint Patrick’s day…

Most people will probably be looking for something green here.

But I have nothing.

I’m not at home in Ireland today. I’ve celebrating my fourteenth Saint Patrick’s day off the island.

I might have a pint in an Irish pub.

I might not.

It will be a fairly busy day and it won’t bother me either way.

I’ll have a dram of whiskey at home in the evening. I’ve a nice 12 year old Jameson I got for xmas sitting here.

Just like I’m having a dram of Black Bush right now.

Everyone here expects me to do something special, though. I tell them I never did anything special at home, bar go out on a Monday rather than a Saturday. And have to drink on the street because there’s no room in Mulligan’s. And the Gardaí let us drink on the street just this once.

Here I can drink on the street any day of the week. It’s usually sunny, ever bar has a terrace, and you can take your drink up the street and sit down on the pavement in the sun and nobody will say boo.

Every weekend would put our St. Patrick’s tolerance of street revelry at home to shame.

Trying to describe what we do at home is fairly hollow compared to what people have experienced here in the realm of festivals. My forthcoming novella under the name JD Martin’s, One Night in Pamplona will give you a hint of the mayhem…

But then I haven’t been home in a decade for the day.

And certainly won’t be wearing green.

I don’t actually have any green clothes – bar my hiking/hunting gear.

I don’t like soccer, or rugby or GAA, so I have never worn a football shirt in my life. And I don’t intend to start now.

To be honest, I’d feel like a bit of a tool if I put something on just for the day.

I’m not sure why, but I don’t go out of my way to meet up with my fellow ex-pats outside of Ireland. I mix with the locals, and other blow-ins. Hanging out with Paddies just because they’re Paddies was never my bag, baby.

I’d probably have to watch football, then.

This doesn’t mean I’m not attached to my own land. I am. I love the island. I feel more at home with my feet in the soft peat of a heather bog than on the sharp stony soil growing lavender and thyme and a thousand thorny bushes here. And when I’m home, that’s where I take myself. Up the hill, as we say.

But I always remember the words of a character in a New Zealand film called Once Were Warriors.

A pretty impacting flick. I recommend it.

The older brother asks his younger brother if he wants to get the traditional tattoo on his face (ala Mike Tyson) and the kid shakes his head and smiles, says, “I wear my colours on the inside.”

He was no less Maori for not getting painted. He was probably more so than his brother, since he’d learned traditional warrior arts and methods.

That film made me think a lot – I wrote a poem about one aspect back in the day, and have pasted it in below (it’s from my formal rhyming period of poetry writing).

So enjoy the day, as I will: another day in a life of being Irish, of having cups of tea and whiskey and worrying about the immersion (thank goodness we don’t have that here!) and thinking of the next time I’ll be up the hill. And writing.

Which reminds me – I’ll be on tomorrow evening  6 Irish time/10am Pacific time…. with a little blurb of Five Days on Ballyboy Beach – if you’re looking to transport yourself to the old country for a while…


Once Were What?


The people of a now downtrodden race,

However they live under western ways,

Can remember the glory of past days;

They have their ancestors to give them grace.


But here, our warriors have long since past;

Forgotten graves under tides of good times;

Yet oft’ the bell tolls, when we think it chimes:

Do we realise what we’ve lost at last?


On whose shoulders do I stand upon then?

No others’ colours can I wear inside;

I must paint my own image of those who died,

Must live in me, maybe, they were proud men.