Blog Archives

It’s for the Kids!

            Saving the Next Generation

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Wherein comes the urge to chastise

Children chasing chaffinches, ducks;

Picking wildflowers for bunches just 

To steep in water and later pour it out?

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These innocent actions seem almost 

Painful for some of us to see, since 

It seems every seedling, even insect, is 

Particularly precious in this sinking era.

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Now we need to encourage kids to 

Lie down on a lawn, plucking daisies

As they please, ripping leaves and 

Flicking petals to the breeze, immersed

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In the verdure that surrounds us. Thus

They will in turn appreciate the wonder

Of these tiny treasures of orchids, clover,

Cornflowers as especially as do we mourners.

Getting close to the Geology of Ireland in the Dargle

I’ve been offline to a certain extent so far this summer. But I’ve been outside a lot, enjoying the nature left to us, as you can see from these photos ( I don’t publish anyone’s face in this blog), and with my kids in Ireland.

On our way to the Sally Gap. Saw a sika hind into the bargain!

But I have republished Peter and the Little People, and it’s out in paperback!

It’s for the Kids!

Of course, anyone of any age can enjoy it, so go ahead and pick up a copy. It’s perfect for reading aloud, too.

Like everything we do, it’s for the kids who will have to visit places much changed and degraded unless we stop what we’re doing.

I don’t let my kids pick some wildflowers, like orchids, but then the local roads authority or the farmers come along and strim or spray the ditches and hedgerows…

The view from Killiney Hill might be slightly different towards Shankill in the future if we’re not pro-active to prevent it.

The news this summer is of course pretty depressing, with the IPCC pretty much saying we’re in big trouble unless our so-called leaders act like we need them to…

So have a read of Peter and the Little People, and then help your children write some letters to the Taoiseacht or whoever supposedly leads your government telling them they’ll have a place in history – good or bad is up to them.

The End of the Rainbow…

Peter and the Little People republished!

And a poem that the Little People would understand from a longer term perspective than humans seem able to take…

I hope summer is going well for everyone and the new (for us fifth) wave of infections is not affecting you.

I have some news: I have republished my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People, since the original publishers have sadly closed recently. I took the opportunity to re-edit it, so it reads a lot smoother, especially in the first chapters.

It’s available on pre-order now, and will download automatically onto your kindles etc. on the publication date which will be August 15th!

AND it is available in Paperback! So you can pre-order it now and it will pop in the post for you, too.

Till then, here’s a poem that was inspired by a different book written and set in Ireland.

Children of the Rainbow is a book from decades ago, but it’s well worth reading if you have any connection with the Island.

At the same time, I was reading Barry Lopez’s Horizon, which was quite impactful, too.

So the poem that came out is not quite as hopeful as Peter and the Little People regarding our planet. But I hope it’s still beautiful.

For there is yet beauty all around us if only we appreciate it and preserve it.

            The Fading of the Rainbow

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Our grandparents grew up under the bow of wonder

Shades of beauty forty-fold and more, so vivid 

The colours were within reach, like the hand of God,

Life bursting out of every bud and bloom, butterflies

And bees humming just one tune in Nature’s symphony

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But today, we stare across a broad sweep of fields, all

Furrowed into one with faint lines left where once

Grew hedgerows; rooks caws accompany cows now,

Gone the curlew call and corncrake, cuckoo only

Heard on distant hills: a sound of childhood, half

Remembered. The skylark leaves a faint line upon

The heart where before flew nightingales and chorus

Of dawn songbirds, silenced like the wolf and other

Wild animals swept away before the sheep browsing.

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Now even that centrepiece of pristineness, poster

Child of evolution in isolation and archipelagos lies

Lessened, the frenzy of breeding becoming bare as

Feral goats graze the spare seedlings, dogs attack

Basking iguanas, cats and rats run riot, into ruin 

One of the last remaining untouched outposts upon

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The vast planet, pinched a little smaller each season,

Swept into sameness, as only colonisers cling to barren

Land. If these distant places are as doomed as our city

Streets, what place has hope this side of the rainbow;

Faded, bleached, and ragged, can it even hold any

Hidden at the end, like a crock of leprechaun gold?

Horizon

            Looking Back Beyond Our Own Horizon.

Archaeology appears a never-ending 

Expanding occupation as we explore

Our earth and find more lost lines of

People from the past. Why were they

And their way of life so often severed 

Thus that these must dig for hints of 

Their hopes and aspirations, methods

Of machinery, imaginations, machinations,

Left shadowed in splinters and shards,

In discarded tools and dwellings abandoned?

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Is it so easy to snap these threads?

Or is it the exact opposite: only 

Possible if families never leave, and 

Children have time and inclination to 

Listen to old folks round the night fire?

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The burial mounds and dolmens 

Scattered across our island are

Not our own; the céide fields and

Golden torcs were of a different folk

Who we replaced: pushed out; or who

Simply upped one day and walked away.

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I have been fairly quiet these last few weeks. Hope all are well.

I am reading Barry Lopez’z book Horizon. It’s not an easy book to read, but an important one. It provides food for many thoughts and one of the was this, that we should know more about our ancestors than we do, and perhaps its because they are not our ancestors at all…

I have been writing a little – a few more poems to post soon – and working through some new chapters of my major work in progress, Palu and the Pyramid Builders.. which relies a little on Archaeology, and a lot on my imagination of what a certain ancient civilisation might have been like..

Happy Halloween

Halloween is a strange time for me.

I’ve been in the ER twice on Halloween, back in Ireland, as a kid and a young man who should have known better. Actually, the kid should have known better, too.

But shit happens.

full moon rising over Pamplona, with Mars beside.

It’s also one of the times when I most feel homesick, when I feel most proud to be Irish – those who know me know I care little for sport or other ritualistic nationalistic shite.

I am always aware of the entities that might collide with my life on Samhain.

This year, we’re all wearing masks, and we can’t go and ask for any apples or nuts or even sweets, since this year things are scarier than they used to be, and going to the ER is not a nice idea even for a cough.

I actually have an appointment after nightfall – at the PCR testing point. Not for me, but I’ll be cycling along under the full moon with my mask and perhaps a bit of disguise, just in case the spirits are soaring over Spain.

So stay safe, everyone, and hopefully this nightmare will be over (not before Christmas, though!)

Here’s a poem about twilight, and the tricks our eyes can do, even without the Samhain imagination to help them. There are good things we can see if we try.

And when you look up at the moon, ponder this – which is scarier, the myth of the werewolf, or the truth?

http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/OBrien_David/leaving-the-pack.htm

moon rising over mountains at sunset day before yesterday. This view is filled with swifts in summer.

            Optical Illusions

It is in the gloaming that the eye is

Overcome by the clear view of

Imagination. More than the shapes of

Shadows becoming beasts instead of 

Branches, shades seeming to move

When still steady stones, it creates

Shifting scenes swapping some 

Creatures instead of others. 

The tree leaves sway in the breeze

As if waves were washing seaweed

Sideways to the shore, before me;

Staring up at steely sky turn dark,

The heart-pushed corpuscles in

Retina rush across my vision,

Taking forms of those dear departed,

Heaven-skating swifts, and I wish

They could go on thus until the

Stars transform the sky to diamonds,

Transporting me through the air

Unblinking as if I could follow there.

The Smell of Rain

            

Like many in my situation, living as an emigrant, I’ve been wondering about when I’ll get home, and certain things make me think of Ireland… 

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Raindrops gathered on a cobweb in gorse. From a recent hike out in the hills

           The Smell of Rain

Not the petrichor: that scent at

The first few splats of heavy plashes

As a high cloud unburdens its humid load,

Stinging the nose with its distinctive smell,

Nor the nostril flaring storm at first,

Suddenly splashing the unsuspecting 

Then spattering along the streets,

As if to sweep them from the scene,

To shelter and, swiping eyes, appreciate 

The spectacle. Not either the drizzle,

Softly seeping into hair and shoulders,

Seemingly seeking to stay aloft like fog,

Hovering above the soil as if unimpressed 

With landing, but accepting settling 

On stems and leaves, leaving shoes 

Darkened should one step through the grass.

None of these, is the smell that sparks

My senses, resurrects memories.

But later, when it’s soaked in after

Several repeated storms, then

The smell of wet earth, seeps

Into sinuses, springing forth

Almost feared forgotten scenes

Of rolling streams through soggy ground,

Sodden peat and spongy moss, 

The sparkle of water wringing the island

From sunlit rainbow down to buried rock,

Reminding me of Ireland, only Ireland.

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misty rain collecting on a cobweb on gorse. It could be Ireland as easily as Euskadi.

The Lockdown Posts

 

While I was in my house for the duration, I posted a message every day on my personal facebook page.

Most had no photos, just text.

 

I am posting them all here for posterity… a little snapshot of two months using humour and faux complaints to entertain those who read my news feed…

 

I will try to add some of the photos for context. The links I sometimes attached are lost, as are the interactions of others – people’s replies on my news feed, which were fun.

 

I started at day 3 of our lockdown, which was Monday, after our schools closed on Friday and the kids didn’t go to school but stayed in their cousins’ and I took them home at 12. We were ready for a few weeks at home. It took a lot longer.

Of course, we didn’t get out back to normal after any weeks. But are slowly regaining our former freedoms. But we will be okay as long as we have the countryside.

 

Hope you have a few smiles.

 

(Day two – over that weekend…)

hope the hell someone shows this to Leo V. And Boris. we’ve only just shut down in Navarra, days later than we should have – and not even properly. still saying we can take students in school tomorrow… stupid people

 

 

(first post:)

from my vantage point of 3 days into lockdown, here’s some info you might find useful…
I have been to the stores twice. they are well stocked.
my family of 4 has gone through 1.5 rolls of toilet paper.

Stay home, but stay calm. Stay away from busy supermarkets.

 

(This was a post from my author page, with the intro..)

this will give us all a lot of time to think…

It’s day three of me staying at home because of the #coronavirus lockdown.
As I went for an now illegal run around the block this morning, I thought about book recommendations – seen a few requests on facebook.
well, I don’t know who has the copyright on The Diary of Ann Frank, but that book should be required reading for every teenager who’s home from school these coming weeks.
I’ve been to the Ann Frank house in Amsterdam. More than two years in that space gives perspective on our current crises and what we’re asked to do to help our families stay alive.
And for the single folks… About a Boy has some good tips on time management.

 

Day four of confinement.
When you calculate how much booze you need for your quarantine, don’t forget to include in your calculations the fact that your kids will be at home with you. Adjust accordingly.

 

(Day 5..)

Happy St Paddy’s Day to everyone from Locked Down Spain! We hope to use these masks for more than just messing when they let us out of our house at the end of this crisis. Meanwhile, it’s day five of our confinement – and the typical Paddy’s Day rain might seem to make it easier to stay inside, but it really doesn’t. Still, we have a tree to look at outside our window, and the distant hills… And I have a bottle of black barrel Jameson…
We’ll remember this Paddy’s day for a long time… no parades, no pints in the pub, but there is still magic and mystery in Ireland. Here’s a link to something you can read to yourself, or your kids.

Paddy's day.

 

Day 6.
You think you’ll be bored…. people will repost a million ideas of virtual museums and educational websites for your kids…
Yuu’ll be too busy to do half what you’d like to do.

Plus, if you have kids they’ll be using your computer for their virtual clases and downloaded lessons and you’d not even have time to attend to your own work from a distance, never mind watch a bit of Netflix.

 

Day 7. It’s my birthday.
The good thing about this is that I can easily avoid all the fuss about it, when I’m not a big one for being the centre of attention.
The bad thing is that there’s very few people to share the cake with, and what with the new rule saying we can’t even use the building stairwell for exercise, as it’s common space, never mind go outside, well, I’ll be adding extra insulin – and kilos!
Oh, and we’re about 4 toilet rolls into our supply….
if you’ve run out of paper books to ready already, why not buy an ebook or two? the best birthday present from afar is a reader’s review

 

 

Day 8 of staying at home…
Get a dog, they say, and you’ll get exercise.
They were right.
Now every time I see someone walk their dog past my window I feel my solidarity slipping away and envy creeping in.
Because walking a dog doesn’t have to have a destination, like going to the shop does, and there are no shops in the park!

 

 

Day 9 now. A full week since my kids left the house.
I always said that apartment living was great – for many reasons. But I’d love to have to mow the grass in my garden today! Or not mow, but play with the daisies.
I have a garden, 40 minutes away, which I hope to see after another week. I’m told the daisies are blooming there!

 

Day 10.
Tickles.
I’ve never tickled my kids so much and so often in their lives as in the last ten days.
It’s great exercise for a four year old and in times of doubt and worry and things on the telly they don’t quite understand, it’s an amazing therapy. So hug your kids – if you’re not isolating from them – but tickle them too.

 

 

Day 11. Hoping to see some shift in the curve soon.
Meanwhile, I’ve discovered why our mothers gave us so many chores to do back in the old days – it keeps the little gits busy for a few minutes, or even half an hour, during which you can actually do something useful! I’m even considering pretending there’s a run on dishwasher tablets as well as toilet rolls so they can wash and dry and put away!

 

Day twelve!
They say this is going to go on till the 12th of April now… That’s a long time if you think about it.
So we don’t.
We count toilet rolls – about 7 gone, but I really don’t count toilet rolls. Why would I – there’s plenty in the shops now.
We don’t count beers. But when I went shopping on Saturday afternoon there was a serious dent in the supermarket’s supply – only a few crates of San Miguel and of course lots of the fancy expensive beers we should also be drinking right now because if anything this has taught us is that life’s too short to skimp on good beer.

 

 

Day 13.

It’s amazing how fast the days go by, really. But the death count keeps going up, though we’re supposed to see a drop in infections now soon (everything is soon, but not soon enough). The police are having a field day fining and arresting anyone out without what they say is a good reason. One Ould Granda was buying speed for his granddaughter – well, we can’t argue with that. But one lad was arrested for going out to buy beer – apparently not a necessity (well, only if you’ve got wine and spirits left at home) and now they say you’ve to spend at least 30 euro at the shops to justify the trip. So no popping out for eggs unless you add a bottle of vodka or two to the list…
In my humble opinion the cops would be better employed helping out in nursing homes, which are in a terrible state from sick workers and lack of funeral home workers up to the task of dealing with the dead – which the workers aren’t supposed to touch, apparently.

 

Day 14.
There are many lessons to be learnt from this experience. Our children are teaching us one important one:
Accept the situation and make the best of it.
As long as you have your loved ones, all will be well.
One day at a time, take the time to smile.
The world outside will be waiting for us.

 

 

Day 15.
This crisis, like every crisis, reveals to us the Haves and the Have Nots.

in this case, it’s those who have a balcony from which to applaud the health services, versus those who don’t and so don’t appear on the news singing.

Those who have a south-facing window which gets some sun versus those who are giving their kids Vitamin D supplements after two weeks indoors.

Those who have computers and internet so their kids can do all their assigned work versus those who are lucky the government is putting some revision lessons on TV.

Those who have a flat where you can swing a cat versus those who are watching tv because the only place to sit down is the sofa and the only way to avoid arguments from being in each other’s faces all day.

 

 

Day 16.

And.. for the first time
in forever…

I don’t give a fuck about the clocks going forward.

 

 

day 17.
now we know why those movie characters in jail were always doing push-ups.
The smaller the place of confinement the greater the urge to exercise.

 

 

Day 18.
Despite the applause etc., some bitterness is showing through. Some finger pointing goes on without trying to consider special circumstances – reporting old couples going for walks together when one has Alzheimers and needs to get out, or complaining that some nuns were playing football on the TV, when they were in their own garden and members of a closed order who haven’t been on the street in decades, never mind ten days…
There’s a message going around that kids with blue armbands are outside because their autistic – just so that the hotheads and finger pointers won’t lash them and their parents out of it for showing their faces on the street like they’re conspiring to kill us all.
Take a breath, and pause to ponder – is there possibly a good reason these people are outside? Yes, there probably is.
Unless they’re teenagers snogging. Then definitely rip them a new one.

 

 

Day 19
Hamelin was a sad place.
Pamplona is almost as sad, but with some common sense, we could make the streets alive again.

 

 

Day 19. This shit sure does feel long now. Imagine how it feels to a 4 year old, or a toddler?

 

 

its day 21. yesterday I repeated 19.. shows how this thing is going!
anyway, today they brought the army into Pamplona.
Yes. The army.
I watched a patrol walk past my house. 8 men, in formation, looking around and up at the balconies.
I can’t see why they were walking down my street.
Ostensibly they’re here to help.
I don’t know how. I didn’t see them disinfect the bins downstairs. There are no old folks home on my street. Parking their trucks in the square where the children play isn’t going to help the kids get through this confinement any better, unless they’re going to volunteer to take our kids out for supervised walks to some green space.
All that I know is going to the stores now will involve being stopped by soldiers.
The residents of the city centre are not impressed by their arrival. Anyone who understands politics in Northern Spain will know why.
I fail to see how anyone in the government thought this was a good idea.
I’ve great respect for the army. They can help out a lot, when deployed properly. but as a Paddy, I have learnt about bad deployments. and a city (with no greenery to speak of inside the walls) under lockdown where people are already restricted from doing more than letting their dog shit and getting a loaf of bread once a day, is no place for army deployment.
But I’ll get back to Netflix now.

 

 

day 22. three weeks and they just announced 3 more – until April 26th.
Tired of watching how badly those supposedly working for us are doing things so shitily. There have to be more tests, yet I near from biologists that local governments won’t shell out a tenner to have people tested accurately, instead going for 17euro fast tests from China that only test for antibodies. They told us masks weren’t necessary, but we all knew that was just to stop us rioting in the streets because there were no fucking masks. We won’t get our kids back out in the sun and grass until things are organised right. And I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

 

 

Day 22. Sunday, wrote Mr Kipling…
I wonder how many other parents are thinking about faking symptoms in order to self isolate?

 

 

Day 23. Went shopping. Didn’t need bog roll because even with all four of us crapping at home we’re still only about 20 rolls in.
There are some shortages – people are taking my advice and drinking good beer, but there’s still lots of San Miguel despite everyone drinking at home rather than their local…
Cup-cake holders and other baking supplies are scant – but that’s my fault for not realising I could distract my oldest for hours by letting her have at with the kitchen.
only one minor incident with the microwave and a plastic bowl so far…

 

 

Day 24. Some unfortunate news from the UK,
and from Ireland…
People are already starting to get angry with others about them sunbathing or going to the beach. I’d advise everyone to be thankful for the permission to get out of their house in the first place and not invite the powers that be to start restricting movement more than necessary – they’ll be happy to oblige if it gets to that.

 

 

day 25.. the curve is starting, starting, to turn here. it’s still higher than I thought it would be after this long. No sudden drop after 14 days by any means. We’ll be inside another two weeks. But then, perhaps, we’ll get out. Doesn’t seem so long. Two weeks. no problem. we’ve done more than three.
And I might actually get some time to read since we’ve Easter Holidays!

 

 

Day 26
Newton had a nannie.
This is something any scientist worth the name has figured out in in this quarantine.
As for Shakespeare, well that lad might have written King Lear during lockdown for the plague, but he wrote a whole lot of other shit when he was allowed out and about, so we can conclude that he had a fecking nanny too. Or he had no kids.

 

 

Day 27?
This is going to be a lot longer than most Good Fridays.
Traditionally, I would scoff at Ireland having their pubs closed while here in Spain we can go for a beer.
Ireland started opening their pubs last Good Friday, so I stopped…
It was nice while it lasted, lads!
Here, meanwhile…
We don’t even have that crazy procession tonight – seems the pillowcases on their heads don’t let them avoid the physical distancing rules.

 

 

 

day 28. 4 weeks in. well, I don’t feel like I got a lot done in that month… read Gulliver’s Travels. Only travelling I did.
Reading The Shock Doctrine. Not happy reading, but important for the times we’re living and going to live.
Nearly edited a dystopian novella – adding some sentences relevant to our pandemic (it’s set in the future, of course) and… well, I suppose keeping the kids fed and watered more-or-less entertained while my wife tries to concentrate and also fulfilling my teaching workload counts too, right?
Oh, and we watched Tiger King and lots of news. too much news… not new news… stupid people telling us bullshit news.
what’d ya do in the pandemic Granda?
watched a lot of news, kid!

 

Day 29
Happy Easter!
As if any of us needs more chocolate.

But it could be worse…
Could be vodka.

Only kidding!

It’s vodka as well.

 

(there is no day 30, it seems…. Unless FB deleted it, like they deleted other content, conts.)
Day 31. A month.
I just want to point out that these old memes, from the old days (last month) said living ALONE… and in the friggin’ WOODS.

They never asked who could do it in their FLAT with stressed out spouse and bored/frustrated/worried kids who have to be homeschooled while you yourself will be working from home at the same time.

So, after my month, I think I deserve the Million Bucks!

that is all.

 

 

Day 32.
This is the part of the movie where they skip forward weeks or months, and come back when my quarantine beard is an inch longer (or I’m mad fit from all the zumba) without all the boring shite in the middle.

we could have a fluttering of the calendar, days falling away until mid May…

Or a montage.

Even Rocky had a montage…

 

 

Day 33…
This is not The Martian.

There is no fast forward.

We have to suck up every boring day of same old shite for however many years this lasts…

Today’s quibble:
I used to hate running.

Now I’d be happy to go for a run.

All my hate has been transferred to Zumba.

 

 

Day 34
So a couple of days ago Mariano Rajoy, the former president of the country, was filmed breaking the quarantine laws – out walking in his neighbourhood every morning as blatant as you please. This is the person who would have been in charge of this state of emergency if it had happened two years ago.
He sets an example, though, of how politicians, especially the right wing, could not give a fuck about us, or the rules they make us abide by. They really believe they are above us and the law.
We are the ones fixing this problem, by our sacrifices and they merely make life harder than it needs to be by their incompetence.

 

 

Day 35…
In the before time, I used to watch the part of the news where they talk about the stock market, and ask…

Who needs to know this?

The trends in the IBEX, FTSE, Ibex 100… that’s all just meaningless information to most of us.
It’s only relevant to a few lucky rich people.

Now, I ask myself the same question when they show the weather forecast…

 

 

Day 36…
You’ve probably noticed this by now everywhere, but it’s funny how when we were kids we had various chores….

One was to help put away the shopping after the weekly supermarket trip.

Another was we’d to wash, dry, and put away the dishes after dinner.

Now these two have multiplied by one another, and we’re washing, drying, and putting away the fecking shopping.

And we can’t even make the kids do it, much, either…

 

 

Day 37
we have positive news here in Spain… the govt. has decided to let us take kids outside for walks from next week. Kids who’ve not left the house (flats) for a month and a half.
They’ve yet to say exactly what time table and how far we can go, but they reckon between 10am and 12pm, less than 1km from home.

And yet, it was on the news that 60% of citizens reckon we should keep the kids inside…
WTF?
Who are these people?

 

 

Day 38.
A sad day in Pamplona. The festivals this year have been officially cancelled. We knew it was coming, but it’s a hard blow. It’s a lesson for us all that whatever we used to take for granted, and assumed would happen every year was really a luxury we should be grateful for the little things we still have.

ps, the clock counts down to 12pm on July 6th…
https://www.diariodenavarra.es/…/suspendidos-los-sanfermine…

 

 

day 39
Earth Day.
Well, fifty years on we can see a clear progress
in the wrong direction.
But this time now, is hopefully a wake up that all we have, and all we need, is the earth.
I see a lot of people who are not used to thinking outside the concrete box realise that going for a walk is the best thing they could ask for.
And today, despite the problems they and other migrants are facing, I saw the first swift of the season. Something that made my quarantine lighter.

The Little Alleviations

There are things that make this almost okay:
A kite fly past; the sight of storks soaring over
Distant river plain; bats, breaking out at twilight
Across the buildings; blackbirds warbling from
Rooftops, bursting forth louder than before due to
Absence of traffic drowning out twittering; blue tits
Appearing on balcony railings while waiting claiming
Arrival of swallows and swifts gliding above turtledoves.

 

 

Day 40. a “full” quarantine, as the bible says.
went to the doctors today (eye check up) and got to actually walk through town. So I took the route through the park and it was a beautiful sight!
The lawns haven’t been mowed in weeks!
I’m delighted.
The only things missing were kids, running and jumping and falling and hiding in the long grass, plucking and blocking dandelions.
I hope to hell they leave it like that for next week when the kids can get out.

 

yamaguchi 1

 

Day 41 (delayed)
sometimes the internet just doesn’t work.
And I wonder how people would deal with this if it happened back in the 80s.
Probably fine. We were used to being bored back then.

 

Day 42 (late, also)
It’s amazing how many stupid questions students still send after six weeks of this.
Sunday morning answering emails from Saturday midnight
And my doctor said, “on holidays,” when I told her I was a teacher the other day.

 

 

Day 43.
Finally got time to write this idea about lessons to be learned these days.

(a link to Lessons Learnt)

 

 

Day 44
The birds are singing more and louder in the cities now that the traffic has died down.
But by Jaysus, it’s still not the same as the chorus in the countryside.
A feast for the ears.

 

 

Day 45 (late again! I am as bad as my students!)
Since Sunday we’re allowed out for exercise. A freedom we truly appreciate.
Yesterday we went for a walk outside the village, through the country.
But to our surprise and disappointment, we found that in our absence, while we locked inside hoping spring was flourishing in blessed isolation, the local council had decided that the brambles and bushes along the field access paths should be cut back. In April.
Clearly in Spain there are no rules about not cutting hedges during nesting season.
The really stupid thing is that this area has a lot of erosion. Those walls of soil under the fields are only held up by the roots of the bushes and will crumble during the spring and summer storms if we get a good downpour.

We’re getting lots of storms this week, and I can only hope that new growth can cover the bare earth before it’s washed into the river.

 

 

Day 46.
Missed yesterday, but hey, you didn’t notice. and when you look back on this, it’ll all blur into one long weekend in your memory.
Anyway, I’m reading this book. It’s taking a long time because I’m so super busy (as I’ve already complained about.) I’m on the bit where both American and British Governments had inquiries to find out what the hell went wrong, who was responsible and how to make sure it didn’t happen again (which it didn’t until roll on roll off put profit over safety again)…
It’s an appropriate comparison to our current situation – dipshit businessmen in charge, (on both sides of The Atlantic) no thought for safety over profit, wilfully ignoring warnings, and even going gung ho, full speed ahead into the danger zone like they were fucking indestructible.
Except there’s a titanic – or two – going down every day now.
And at least in the Titanic, old folks were taken care of.

 

 

 

Day 47
It’s May Day, international worker’s day.
Many of us are at home, not working anyway. Some without pay.
But lots are out there, working away the same as every day these last two months.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could swap jobs for today.
If the delivery workers and amazon warehouse staff and nursing home care givers could stay home and the oil company executives and airline CEOs and cruise ship owners could take their place – not that they need anyone in charge right now.
It’d give the former group some time to practice lobbying the government for bailouts and subsidies and grants and interest free loans; which seems to be all the latter group are good for.
And then, perhaps, the front line workers, with the ear of the politicians, might get the decent wages, the worker’s rights, the PPEs that are actually needed to keep our society stitched together.

 

 

Day 48

Spain has allowed adults to go out for exercise for the first time in two months.
If you live in a town with more than 5k people, your windows are 6-10am and 8-11pm.
Smaller than that, you can go when you want.
In the before time, we had been hearing of the problem of depopulation.
However, that might slow down now.
Telecommuting is now much more viable, houses with gardens rather than poky flats without a balcony are a godsend to mental health in lockdown, open spaces mean you can avoid your neighbours – which is why we have an open timetable (and few visits by police to make sure you’re not walking in the field behind your house a few days earlier than the restrictions were lifted).
I think this pandemic will make many reconsider rural living.

these are what I woke up to today…. first from my window, second the wall of our garden, when I went for my jog. viva the countryside!

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website wall

 

 

Day 49
I have still not had to buy more toilet paper.
I have had no problem buying more beer and wine.
Whiskey levels are still looking good.
But I was running low on one vital item… TEA Bags.
Irish tea bags.
In the before time, my parents would have been visiting me here this weekend and resupply me, but of course, that trip didn’t happen.
However, fear not!
My brother and sister-in-law have sent me a care package!
I got tea bags and Tayto crisps (yeah, I was hoping for King, but don’t tell them that) soda bread mix, Keanes crisps, AAAAND a packet of Cadbury TWIRLS!!!
Hurray for them, and for the post office.
It really feels like being in prison now!

 

 

Day 50
After having classes with all my school groups, and chatting, I have discovered something I kinda guessed at, but was hoping would not be true…..

Nobody took the opportunity of the last 7 weeks to read a book they might not have read otherwise.

Those who read, read some more.

Those who don’t read played a shit load more video games.

 

 

Day 51.
They say we will have school opening in September with half the kids in class. That means kids have to rotate, one day on one day off, or something like that.
However it turns out, teachers are going to have to reinvent their classes again.
And the government better shell out for free internet access and laptops for all students,
Because if I am spending my life correcting work from off days, like I am spending it now, as kids send in work days and weeks late.and I have to keep sending messages and mails to ask them where their work is, and report to tutors for kids MIA, I will come down hard on the kids who’re not keeping up their end of the bargain.
There will be no excuses of “I had to share my computer with my little sister.”

 

 

 

Day 52

If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.
They say.

Today I have nothing to say.

(Here I posted photos I’d taken in the village.)website 7website 6

 
Day 53
I have nothing to say today, either.website1

Some more photos…
Day 54

How often to we look down and notice the struggles that go on below us?
How often do we consider just how small are our troubles in the context of the world?

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you have to zoom right in to see the struggle ensuing.

 

Day 55 (late again, but god I’m busy!)
Interesting article about the impact of having a garden or not in the Financial Times.
We need to get ourselves, and especially our kids, out into the greenery, however we can.
Here are a few photos of some poppies popping up in some barley, a paddock so full of orchids I had to pick my steps to avoid stepping on them, and the victims of the drying ponds (it rained last night, but too late for many) some of which I rescued and put into a little pond I made out of a plastic tray.

website 4website3

 

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Day 56
This is the last day of our confinement.

Tomorrow we can go to small shops, bars and visit friends and family – all within our province of Navarra.

I’m going nowhere… it’s Monday, so I’ll be chained to the computer as usual.

But things will be different… A birthday party in the village can be celebrated by all the kids, since there are fewer than ten of them here!

Parents will watch from a safe distance, and wash everyone before and after!

It’s a new kind of life, but it’s life.

 

 

(The final post, more or less….)

 

A study of the Spanish population shows that only around 5% have gained immunity from Covid 19.
It’s going to be a loooong road, folks.

 

 

 

 

We continue on still, with restrictions being lifted slowly, but we won’t be going back to normal. Ever.

But we will go onwards to something new.

 

The Many Versions of the Werewolf Tale

I was in the Basque speaking area of Navarra last weekend, up in the hills.

Very green.

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We went to visit a museum made by a very interesting guy called Iñaki Perurena, whose famous in the region for having Guinness World Records for lifting stones, among other things.

He has some amazing sculptures and lots of interesting paintings of characters from Basque Mythology on huge rocks dotted through the woods.

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The Basques have a lot of strange characters that live in the woods. A much richer diversity than the simple fairy and leprechauns of Ireland, to be honest.

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They have a type of Faun, mermaids, goblins, their own Santa Claus character, a cyclops, giants…

And…. another creature who you might bump into while walking the woods in such remote areas where houses are separated by large tracts of land, and visiting your neighbour involves a trek up a mountain.

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Gizotso, is werewolf  in Basque, and is said to be an extremely strong savage beast that lives in the woods and is made by sexual intercourse between humans and wild animals.

I’ve a long-held interest in werewolves, of course, and my kids speak Basque in school, but I’d not heard of this particular thread of the great tapestry of werewolf tales.

It’s fascinating how many different versions there are of this story. One of the things that unite all human societies are the similarities in our fireside tales of others who live just outside the light spread by our hearths. And the werewolf is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all, more than even the dragon.

At the same time, it’s disturbing how easily every society can alienate others and reduce them to the status of “savage animals.”

Perhaps it not so difficult to see how such stories of werewolves can spring forth in our imagination from simple ingredients such as deep woods, woodland dwellers, people we don’t like, and people we desire.

Of course, nowadays, nobody believes in werewolves.

 

 

leavingthepackbydavidjobrien500

 

 

Keep the Heat in!

It’s the little things.

You know when you’re watching a movie and you say to yourself, “that’s bullshit?” Because you know too much about the particular topic, and the director didn’t do his homework, so you’ve a guy shooting way more bullets than are in the gun etc.

Well, I’ve had a couple of those recently that all came together and makes me want to point them out.

The first is from the book I’m reading – Dan Brown’s Origin

Yea, I know, Dan Brown isn’t writing for accuracy.

But he could at least try.

Let’s leave aside straight away the fact that he’s put lots of detail into all his descriptions of the architecture (before you start reading the novel he states that all the locations and art etc. are real) but invents a parallel universe Spanish royal family. It’s actually quite funny to read how the king of Spain is so devout, when the former king is a notorious philanderer.

It’s the little things that catch a reader. Like when at the start of the novel two Irish football fans harass a Spanish Admiral in a bar. The fans have been watching a soccer match between Ireland and Spain or Portugal (it’s unclear where this takes place) and are drunk (that’s fine) when they enter the bar, empty but for the barmaid and the admiral. Now, not only would two Irish fans not harass a local to drink with them, being happy enough to be with themselves, they’d not be just two of them alone after a match. There’d be hordes of them. And when we read that the name of the bar is fucking Molly Malone, it’ just taking the fucking piss! What a crock of shit.

Just laziness. Perhaps what Brown considers Irish is what he sees in Boston, but he’s never watched footage of Irish fans after an international game on foreign soil, that’s for fucking sure.

I’m obviously not the first person to point this out...

Research. It’s what writers do. Getting people right is more important than how long the LCD screens in the Guggenheim are.

 

The second examples come from a movie I’m half way through.

Hold the Dark.

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As a biologist and woof enthusiast, I stuck it right on when I signed up to Netflix!

I knew there’d be bullshit about wolves. They’re always cast in a bullshit light.

But that wasn’t the problem on the believability end.

I was at first impressed to see the local woman put masking tape on the tip of the gun barrel, to keep out snow and dirt. We do that in the bog, in case you fall and get peat and dirt stuck up there. You can’t shoot a rifle that’s obstructed like that. Well, you can, but do it far away from me.

hold the dark 1.jpg

you can see the masking / duct tape on the top of the barrel in this still.

 

But then, they go and make a point of the naturalist, played by Jeffry Wright, struggling to get the masking tape off the barrel so he can defend himself against the approaching wolf pack!

No! No and fucking NO!

You don’t take the tape off! You just fucking shoot! The pressure blows a hole in the tape before the bullet could even touch it! Any hunter knows that, or should.

tape

But what most pisses me off about some movies, and it’s perhaps not a problem of doing research, but just society, is how much the actions of some characters differ from what I consider sensible and, given the state of our world right now, basically unacceptably stupid.

Waste.

Wasting stuff, especially energy.

I’ll explain.

They’re in Alaska.

Not Anchorage, but way up north.

The biologist inexplicably turns up without decent footwear, like he’s never tracked a wolf in his life. The local gives him some boots more appropriate to the weather. And a good caribou skin.

But yet, she lives in a house that looks way under insulated for the clime. I’ve more cladding on my house in Spain, and that has foot-thick brick walls to boot.

And she goes around in cardigan open to the wind, and stands with the fucking door open looking out at the snow.

I know she’s a bit crazy, but such habits are ingrained. She’s not rich – her husband is off in the war and she says she can’t pay the naturalist.

So why is she wasting the heat?

I dunno if it’s just because I was always told to turn off the immersion heater and turn off the lights to save money, but I’m sure poor people the world over are pretty frugal when it comes to this kind of thing.

Also, the naturalist sleeps on the couch with just his long johns and a flimsy blanket. The fire is roaring, of course. But he’s a naturalist! Where’s the sleeping bag and less of the wasting firewood?

Climate change, Jeffry! Your character would be very aware of that, even if your host is not big on energy efficiency.

As I said, perhaps it’s just the state of society.

But, as I also said it’s not acceptable.

And we should stop showing such irresponsibility.

As Hollywood knows, art imitates life and life imitates art.

It’s time to start modelling good behaviour.

Just like few characters smoke in movies now compared to the chain-smoking of the fifties and sixties, movie makers can stop having characters do stupid shit that worsens climate breakdown and pollutes our planet. Hopefully it will happen a bit quicker than the change from smoking to not – this is more urgent.

Then maybe readers and viewers won’t get be so let down by the stories we’re told.

On the other hand, if real people keep acting like these characters, then our children won’t have much time, money, or inclination, to “Netflix and chill.”

 

Deer “Management” in Ireland: wolves would do it better…

I just wanted to comment on a couple of recent articles in the Irish press.

The first is a call for a large harvest in Kerry, because local farmers and golf course owners are “at their wits end” due to deer damaging their property.

https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/forestry-enviro/environment/call-for-major-cull-as-deer-causing-havoc-farmers-and-property-owners-say-killarney-deer-are-ruining-lands-36773544.html

 

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Hey, you! Get off of my lawn!

 

On social media where this article is discussed, I’ve seen a few calls for the wolf to be reintroduced to help in such situations. Although I am firmly (see other posts I’ve written here) in favour of a wolf reintroduction to Ireland, I think the area around Killarney is not necessarily the best place to start. As I said before, Achill or Donegal would be better to start with. On the other hand, where there are no wolves, humans have to do their job. They can’t just leave things be. But that’s precisely what happens most of the time.

The other article clearly demonstrates this…

https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/rural-life/starving-deer-shot-after-others-were-found-starved-to-death-36763613.html

Two thirds of a small herd of around 45 deer have had to be culled as they are starving, on an island in the Kerry lakes, where four deer already died. They’d been there for a decade without any control on their increasing numbers and now there’s hardly anything to eat for them.

This is a microcosm of the problems we have on the island of Ireland. We let the situation get out of hand. Anyone with an eye in their head and a few neurons stitched together can see that the problems coming down the road, but nothing is done. Until the situation becomes untenable and something just has to be done. And the reaction is usually drastic.

The same can be said about deer management in general.

We have been hearing for years and years, since before I finished my PhD in this field 18 years ago, that we need a central countrywide, if not island-wide, management team – or just a manager – with statutory responsibilities and powers to do the job properly.

I put my name forward for it in discussions with COFORD, which had funded my project on studying the deer herd in Wicklow, and which was keen to support some logical steps towards avoiding the problems the forestry sectors were having. When a Inter-agency Deer Policy Group was formed and put out a request for proposals for a “Deer Management Policy Vision” in 2011 I put pen to paper and described what I believed needed to happen. Lots of other stakeholders did the same. We repeated the process in 2012.

What came of it?

Nothing.

Just the same old story.

And now the most important herd in the country, of genetically pure native red deer, is under threat of a large harvest because the local farmers and golf course owners are up in arms. While they might be exaggerating – a farmer suggested harvesting 300 deer, though where this figure came from is a mystery – and complaining about droppings on the greens seems a little pedantic (and could be fixed by a deer fence around the course if they were willing to completely eliminate deer from their fairways, which considering they spend €20,000 a year at the moment would probably be a good investment), it is symptomatic of what happens when there is a lack of clear management goals and action towards achieving them.

Stags and donkeys on lawn copy.jpg

well, the deer keep the lawn trimmed, and they do less damage than the donkeys… perhaps they’re a boon for golf fairways?

In the article about the starving deer, The National Parks and Wildlife Service is quoted as saying that balancing the needs of deer and ecology is “challenging.” That sentence, right there, is a stark example of what we are up against in Ireland.

Using wolves to reduce a deer population should be far from necessary in these situations – a relatively small number of deer in close proximity to/easy access from busy public amenities and livestock farms – but from what one farmer states it is costing him currently (€10,000 a year) it would actually be cheaper to have wolves in the area, even factoring in the probable damages to sheep herds it might entail.

Of course, they’d have to redesign Killarney to cope with all the extra ecotourism traffic…

 

 

The End of Fire Season… until next year?

The cranes started passing over Pamplona yesterday evening.

They were chased by the rain that came in overnight. The first in weeks.

Autumn has thus officially started.

And hopefully also this means the end of the fire season for this year.

While Ireland braced for an almost unheard of hurricane in the North Atlantic, in northern Spain and Portugal, forest fires were killing even more people than Ophelia killed.

There were dozens burning over the weekend and until Tuesday, when the rains helped to finally extinguish them.

Unlike hurricanes, though, which are terrible, and indirectly related to man’s activities, these forest fires were only wild in the sense of the untamed destruction they could wreak. They were not natural. They were man made, purposefully started, and repeatedly so.

 

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Forest fires across Galicia, photo Diario Sur

After so many deaths, there are now questions being asked of politicians as to how these arsonists can be stopped. Spanish news has little else, other that the Catalan situation – politics and fraud, even football has been put in the background by the terrible scenes of people trying to escape burning villages only having to turn back as the roads are flanked with flames, and others park inside a motorway tunnel to wait rescue, or let the fires pass overhead.

Because these fires have been a part of summer in places like Galicia for years. As soon as the weather dries, huge tracts of forests go up there. All directly caused by humans and usually set intentionally, with a few the result of stupidity and neglect.

The people of Portugal are naturally outraged, after a summer of huge fires has been followed by an autumn death toll almost as terrible, with dozens of people claimed by the flames.

The perpetrators must be caught and jailed for their murders, but also, the politicians and police, if it is the case, must be held responsible for letting this situation get to this state. Why have these people not been caught for their previous fires? – because there’s no way these conflagrations were started by first-time arsonists.

Why do people go out of their way to set fires, driving along highways in the middle of the night with fireworks tied to helium balloons?

It’s clear they have nothing better to do, and they’re assholes of the highest calibre, but there must be some other, external, motivation for most of the fires. What is it? Why has it not been identified years ago and why has it not been removed?

There are forests that could burn just as badly and even more easily in other parts of Spain, so why are there not so many fires elsewhere? Galicia has 40% of all fires in the country, and half the area burnt every year for the last decade.

Surely the arsonists are spread out in a broader swath across the country. Or is there something about the mind-set of Galicians that makes them excessively prone to arson?

The gorse fires and heather fires we have seen in Ireland in recent years were all set intentionally for financial gain – the current agricultural subsidy system means that farmers make more money if there land is considered in use, even if it’s not.

Ultimately, stopping them will require a change in the EU farming subsidy system to allow land go fallow without farmers losing money.

Is there a financial motivation in Galicia and Portugal for setting huge fires?

According to Ecologists in Action, this is only the cause of a small proportion of the fires set.

What other factors are in play?

The use of fire for farming practices is permitted much more freely than elsewhere.

In most of Spain it is not permitted to light fires in camping and picnic areas and other recreational areas during times of fire risk. Not so in Galicia.

Vehicles are also allowed onto forest paths in Galicia during the summer, which is prohibited elsewhere.

AND they allow fireworks in village festivals during the summer, which is just asking for trouble.

 

But as I said, the summer is over.

The cranes, luckily, don’t stay long in Spain during their migration.

When they passed before on their way north I wrote this poem. Hopefully it will ease the depression of these fires. Watching the birds certainly lifts the spirit.

 

Eurasian_Cranes_migrating_to_Meyghan_Salt_Lake

European cranes. photo wikipedia – need a better camera myself!

 

The Great Migration

 

I’ve not yet seen the Serengeti,

Nor the caribou upon the artic plains

But up above my house in the hills,

I’ve been privileged to witness

The cranes migrating, calling

Eyes aloft to observe their long

Strings streaked across the sky

Huge wing beats by the thousands,

 

And can’t but wonder where

Those numbers bide in other times,

(Amazed such spaces yet exist)

And where they will find abode

In other climes.