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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.

A delayed St. Paddy’s Day post…

I started writing this last week, but incredible as it might seem from quarantine, I’ve been crazily busy in my little box!

so here’s what I wrote,

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone

It’s a strange one. Hopefully just a blip on our normality, one we’ll remember for being the odd one out rather than the first year of a few way of doing things, a new way of life.

It’s a day to think about all the Irish around the world – which in turn makes us think of all the other migrants, emigrants and immigrants of every other country and culture that venture out into new lands and mix and mingle to make a more united world.

Some of those would like to be home now. Because they don’t know if they’ll get home soon, or when, or if ever.

And there might be loved ones they’ll never see again. Some who won’t be there when this is over, and whose last goodbyes we won’t be able to attend, either in the hospital or over a grave.

That’s a hard thing to say, though everyone is thinking of it – and if not, well, they’re really not aware of what we’re facing here.

And that reality of death should drive home to us – and definitely drive us home, where we all need to be right now, staying a good distance from those outside our immediate family/friends circle with home we’re sharing air and surfaces – the important things in life.

These are those same friends and family, both whom we can touch and not right now.

The simple things we never think of, like simply going for a walk.

Fresh air, exercise.

Sunlight.

The sight of a tree, of a sparrow, a butterfly.

A smile from a stranger, a neighbour we’ve never talked to, the cashier at the supermarket.

 

And the unimportant things. Like hedge funds. We need hedgerows, not hedge funds, someone said.

We could simply stop trading for a few weeks, and we’d all be better off.

If they’ve closed the bars, and the shops, why not the stock exchange? How vital is it, really? What’s needed now is work, willingness, good faith and a calm comportment. Not overabundant in Wall Street.

 

Meanwhile we’re all inside, life is busily going on outside without us, glad for our absence. Songbirds can be heard now the traffic has gone down, the air is cleaner – for those blessed with a dog and an excuse to get out, but also for the rest of us with windows open to the spring – and I can only hope that the park maintenance has been reduced to unnecessary and the personnel redeployed to cleaning tasks (the street cleaning machine still trundles down past our house first thing in the morning though I doubt there’s much rubbish to pick up) so the grass and wildflowers can grow a little more unruly and insects can have a boon from our misfortune.

I only know that the first place my children and I will visit when we’re allowed out of our flat will be the park, to run in the grass and fall down in it and pick daisies and blow dandelion heads.

Till then, we’ll survive on our houseplants and fish tank and the tree outside the window and the birds that visit it.

Paddy's day.

 

And the knowledge that every day we stay inside the air quality improves, planes stay on the ground, and people realise they can survive perfectly well without buying plastic trinkets and clothes to fill their closets and that the water in the tap is good enough without having to fight over bottled water.

 

Stay safe, stay home, stay well.

 

The Fear of Fewer Humans

I listened to a radio show talking about a book just out, called Empty Planet.

 

Yes, it was about the potential problems of the shrinking population it predicts will happen before the end of the century.

I listened to it, and there was some pushback from a UN demographer saying that it wasn’t going to contract so quickly, and in fact a ballooning population would occur first.

But even if it does happen, if we don’t go to 11 billion – I can’t believe that we are even saying that when we have so many problems already with 7.

So what?

What’s the problem?

 

There are several pundits worried about population shrinking as a disaster. They use the words dire, crisis, timebomb, drastic effects.

People talk about population reduction as if we are going to suddenly disappear from the face of the planet.

We won’t disappear

The world wasn’t empty when there were a billion humans. There were enough for a fucking world war or two. The worst flu epidemic in history killed tens of millions and the world kept going on, with hardly a blip on our population.

The world wasn’t empty in the nineteenth century and we were inventing cars and telephones and all that stuff.

Some of the drastic effects outlined here are about one country losing population while others don’t – a kind of population arms race fear in my opinion.

Our cultures will survive.

No country needs multiple millions of citizens to keep its culture alive. Look at Ireland. It lost half its population in a few decades and still we know what it is to be Irish. There are fewer Irish per square km of Ireland than there are of Spaniards to square Km of Spain, or any other country practically in Europe – 4 million compared to 16 in the same area of the Netherlands.

And within that relatively small population, let’s be honest, how many people do Irish dancing, play the bodhrán or uilleannpipes, or even speak the language very well? (Hint, I do none of these things.)

In our globalised (mostly Americanised) world, most of us watch Netflix, shop in Zara and dance to techno., not to mention eat pizza and curries.

But that’s okay.

It only takes a handful to keep a culture alive.

Many Native American’s have kept their language and customs going despite being nearly wiped out by European invaders.

The highlanders of Scotland kept their Gaelic, kilts and tartan going, despite the crackdown on them in the 1700s.

The Basques were prohibited from speaking, too, yet now my kids speak only Basque in school, and they learn the culture of many villages and towns in the region – carnival means making a different costume every year in my house!

 

People tend to think that the way the world was when they were young is the way it should be.

That’s why some of us don’t notice that the insects are vanishing, that the seas are empty, that sheep are not supposed to be eating every tree seedling that tries to sprout.

We are used to having billions of people, used to hearing that there are more than a billion people in both China and India.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A billion human beings is quite enough for Planet Earth..

If we want those folks to live in any way approaching the wonderful lives we are (could be if we tried) living in the western world, then we would be better off with even fewer.

A planet emptier of humans would be able to become one full with the other denizens of our ecosystems we have pushed out during our population explosion.

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I’d rather meet some storks while cycling along a country road than a load of cars and trucks. Or other cyclists!

And, for those who only care about seeing the same species, perhaps this lower density will help us appreciate the other humans around us

For our fellow citizens have become mostly background noise to us: moving furniture and to our lives.

We sit on metros and busses surrounded by others without even catching their eye. We go to coffee shops and bars and exchange few words. The supermarket customer now hardly needs to acknowledge the existence of the cashier, if there is one. Our elevator journeys are a gauntlet of greetings, goodbyes and trying not to look at one another in between.

If we were less tightly packed, perhaps we could become more personable (note the word) and talk to one another, chat with our neighbours, smile on the street as we pass, like people did in the past when they lived in villages, like they still do in small communities.

Remember when we all laughed watching Crocodile Dundee deciding New York must be the friendliest place on Earth, with seven million people all wanting to live together?

 

I see only advantages in such reductions. The only problem is how to get there – and it’ll be most probably abruptly by climate devastation and the loss of biodiversity.

Malthus always gets a bad rap, but as Naomi Klein said, Climate Change changes everything.

 

 

The future of nations when the current refugee crisis is only a sample of what is to come.

Europe is in crisis. Again. For a better reason this time than most times. At least this is something serious, with people who really need help (sorry, the Greeks did/do need help, but it seems these guys are more photogenic). But seems like there’s less political will to spend money on helping people fleeing war zones than bankers fleeing bad loans.

After a couple of weeks of wringing hands (and lots of xenophobia, as you do) a few governments are willing to actually accept the idea of accepting “their fair share” of refugees from Syria.

It’s hard to figure out exactly what we should do, though we know what we should not do. We should not leave people in the position they are currently in.
One thing is clear, however; it is time to re-evaluate Europe.

We can see that the idea of Europe, a European Union, as touted to us all those years ago is bullshit. As someone who lives as a European – i.e. out of his own country in a new one with a different language (an “ex-pat,” don’t you know) and a child (and one on the way) who’s got two nationalities, I really think it’s time to do away with the whole idea of nationality, or at least try to. Doing away with religion would also be a big fucking step, of course, but that’s going to take a bit longer.

I am “proud” to be Irish. I mean, I know where I am from. If I could transport myself via google maps to the hills of Wicklow I’d smile and take a nap, knowing I’m home.

But I don’t feel the need for an Irish football jersey or anything of the sort. Never have.

And I certainly don’t feel the need to protect Ireland from infiltration by others (it would be a bit hypocritical if I did, I know). Any man or woman, of any colour or creed can stand on Djouce or Lugnaquilla and say, with the same feelings as I (of the clan O’Brien, don’t you know), “I fucking love this landscape (despite it’s ecological failings and my avocation of complete transformation via rewilding…).”

Patriotism
The above image, posted on the Irish Worker’s Solidarity Movement facebook page, is completely right.

I pondered the future of these nations, our worries that our cultures might disappear under the weight of numbers somewhat facetiously, in my short story, The Bottleneck (soon to be published in my first collection).

The current spate of stupid posters and photos on the internet saying we should look after our own before we look after refugees (well, they don’t call them refugees, but other names like “illegals,”) are an embarrassment to any person of any nationality. Let’s be clear – the fact that our own homeless are not being taken care of is down to the pack of wankers called politicians supposedly running the country (any country, not just Eire. I admit I don’t know the leaders of all nations, but the four I know fairly well – Ireland, Great Britain, America and Spain are all the same; filled with the kind of creeps you wouldn’t let into a career guidance seminar at your kids school. Of the English-speaking countries, Australia seems to be in a league of its own when it comes to being run by dickheads, as far as I can see, but Hungary is around about there) who don’t give a fuck about our (their?) own. They don’t give a fuck about us, you and me, never mind the homeless, and certainly not the refugees. They are the only ones who really stand to gain from this clinging to “our own” and our nationalities.

If the nations of the earth were merged, who would need all these assholes? We’d get by with a hugely reduced set of assholes, like when two companies merge.
Why is this merging of nations, or blurring of nations, or complete rubbing out of nations necessary?

Because this crisis our leaders are wringing their hands about is only one country, one war we are kindasorta responsible for (yes, all of us westerners), and there are so many more.

Let’s skip over the fact for the moment that people have been drowning in the Mediterranean for years (talked a little about that a few months back) and Europe has done fuck all but hand-wring and the citizens weren’t quite as mobilised till a fairly pale-skinned child was washed up (no disrespect to the child or his family, and I know that sometimes we (humans) need an image we can actually get our heads around rather than statistics to really understand how fucked up shit is). The Syrians and Afghans have been able to trek on foot to the “Doors of Europe.” Those who tried our shores instead of doors are still ignored, at least here in Spain, where they were shot at to keep them in the sea just a couple of years ago.

Africans have been making a trek from equally war-torn and dangerous places for years. And most of those wars have to do with drought and famine caused by climate change.

What will our glorious leaders do when faced with actual “hordes” (yes, I used that word, because we need to visualise the reality, not a few thousand people in Calais, but hundreds of thousands and millions of people on the move, with no home to go back to even if these constant wars stop) made homeless by global warming (also caused kindasorta buy us westerners) make their way to our little fake continent?

They will find out that their charade can’t continue. There can be no us and them on a planet sinking into meltdown. The only us and them that actually exists – no the ones propagated in this look after our own before we look after them nonsense – is the us who are poor and the them who control the resources of this planet until we take it back from them.

When the real exodus arrives, we (Europeans) will either spend more money than we spent on the banks trying to close a border that will not be closed, to a mass of humanity that will not be stopped, or we will welcome these fellow humans in to our lands (the part not also swamped by rising sea levels) where they can seek a better life.
Perhaps in the process, our lives will become less rosy and super-eiderdown-duvet comfortable, but there can be no equality without us stepping down off our velvet seats, since the planet can’t sustain our level of bullshit in any case.

Migrants and Why They’re Dying.

Photo taken by the Guardia Civil of the boy, Abou, in the suitcase / ATLAS (The eyes are blurred because it's illegal to identify a child's face in the news in Spain)

Photo taken by the Guardia Civil of the boy, Abou, in the suitcase / ATLAS (The eyes are blurred because it’s illegal to identify a child’s face in the news in Spain)

I talked earlier this week about being an ex-pat rather than the emigrant/immigrant I’d always assumed myself to be.
The last day or so in Spain there has been a big news story about an eight year old boy, Abou, who was found in a suitcase crossing the border between Morocco and Spain.
He’d come all the way from the Ivory Coast. His father, legally residing in Spain had tried to get his family visas to join him. He was refused. Why? Because to do that he’d have to be making 1350 Euros a month. Now I know plenty of people here who don’t make that. The average wage is way lower. The father made 1300 euros a month. So for fifty quid a month, he was not allowed to have his family with him. I say made, because he’s in prison now: he could go down for human trafficking. The kid is in care, and the mother and his sister are alone waiting to see what the authorities will do.
Just one story of desperation. And the regulations seem stupid in their ability to take human needs into account.
But of course, that’s exactly how they are designed. Keep out the migrants, whatever their reason for trying to come.
I also learned a couple of weeks that reason people don’t take a plane to Europe to seek asylum, is because Europe doesn’t allow them. Not really. It makes the airlines refuse them because if they don’t, the company will have to pay for the flight back. It’s called EU directive 2001/51/EC. It’s there to stop illegal immigration of economic migrants. That’s “people looking to stay alive on more than a dollar a day in a drought-ridden country” to you and me.
It would actually be cheaper for an immigrant to buy a return ticket than pay the people smugglers, but I guess the airlines aren’t allowed do that.
So they have to sneak in, no matter where they are coming from or what they’re fleeing.
And we all know that’s some pretty bad shit there.
But they’re black, or mostly so. So they don’t matter. Their lives don’t matter, just like in the USA, but less, since they’re not even citizens. So the government of Spain can tell their police to shoot into the water to make some men drown rather than get shot instead of reaching dry land and have to be taken care of and processed, knowing few people will protest. They can take men down off the razor wire fence they’d been sitting on for hours and shove them through a gate back into Morocco without even bothering to tend their cuts, or see if they’ve stopped bleeding.
And they can wring their hands in worry at the plight of thousands drown after falling from boats designed to carry twenty weighted down with hundreds, but do nothing to make such voyages unnecessary.
The British government says they will help fish for survivors, but won’t let those they pick from the sea go anywhere near Britain.
And so we sail on.
We are currently debating marriage equality in Ireland, and in the USA. Meanwhile, inequality of application of Universal Human Rights is blatant in all our societies.
If there were true equality between people, the urge to migrate, or expatriate would vanish in 90% of the people who find themselves outside their own countries. Only those who want to live elsewhere for reasons such as my own (love!) would be bothered to move, to learn a new language, find friends and put down roots in a strange place.
But we don’t have anything near that.
Spaniards flock to Germany and England, or South America. The Irish hit the planes to America (illegally staying on past their tourist visa limits in some cases) or Australia.
And those destination countries do their best to discourage them. The only reason some can’t stop them is because of the “freedom of movement we supposedly have in Europe. If they don’t get a job, they want to send them back.
There are some countries, like Germany and England, who didn’t even allow the citizens of other European countries, like Romania and Bulgaria, to even try get a job until seven years after they’d joined our wonderful union.
All of the European Union is equal? Bollox.
The idea of a European Union is farcical until we have equality of citizens, and that means equality of employment rights and salaries. If the wages in Spain (or Bulgaria, where the minimum wage is six times lower) were the same as those in Germany – the minimum wage, if not the median – Germany would not need to worry about people going on the dole there – what they call benefits tourism and poverty migration (and when I came to Spain I had the right to the dole here). But people in rich countries like to have cheap holidays in Spain, or cheap products from counties where people have low wages. And the governments of poorer countries seem to think it’s good to have their citizens working for low wages to attract companies and tourists.
However, until we have a situation of true equality in this globalised world, there will be an unstoppable flow of lives across borders. Some to sink on the way, or die in the desert, or suffocate in the bottom of a truck or container.
But again, they’re only migrants.

Voting Yes for marriage equality in Ireland.

vote yes

A few months back, I talked about voting YES in a referendum. Now I’m back doing the same. Different topic, different country, but strangely, I can’t actually vote myself in this one, either.
Even though it’s an Irish referendum, and I’m obviously Irish.
Once you leave the island, you may as well not exist for the Irish government and civil service. They probably want people to leave so they have fewer people to canvas for votes.
I have missed a good many votes since I left home.
Some of them I wish I could have been there for. This is definitely one of them. There have been significant changes to our constitution before. This is no less important. It is more so, in fact. It proposes that we, the Irish, change our constitution to make it possible for anyone to marry anyone else. And to have a family the way they see fit.
It is apparently the first time in history an entire nation has had the opportunity to do this. Other countries with free marriage changed their laws in parliament.
Ireland has a well-written and strong constitution. We the people have a lot of power. Luckily, given the shower of gombeens that usually “leads” us.
This May 22nd, we can show the world that the Irish are indeed, an independent nation. Nearly a hundred years after our attempts to overthrow the heavy jackboot of a foreign invader, we can demonstrate a different type of independence. We are at last free from the shadow of a false morality, the lying claims of a moral superiority that locked up unmarried mothers, that made grandmothers pretend to have infants in their forties, that forced a lot of good people to do a lot of stupid and awful things. One of which was hide their true selves from the world – from their own friends and family.
I had a long facebook discussion with someone who was worried about the effects of this law on children. Not on the direct impact of having a gay parent, but of having to deal with bullies who might make fun of a child with gay parents. The person had witnessed a child in the nineties being made fun of because her parents had split up (yes, Ireland was that closed minded still then: at least some were)
No matter how I explained that this person was actually arguing against their own logic, the fear of children suffering because we haven’t changed the world to perfect yet led her to believe we should wait until the world is perfect before we change it.
I think this person is just not used to the world the way it is now, is afraid of change to the way things always were in Ireland way back then. I’ve since learned that the No campaign have purposefully brought children into the picture to muddy the waters…
I was thinking about old people today, as I cycled along a busy main street. A handful of pensioners were on the side of the road, about five feet from the edge, ready to make a break between cars. I wondered how they could be in such a rush as to endanger themselves. But they probably don’t see it that way. They have always jaywalked, and they’re not going to stop now. It’s why old people are the ones who don’t wear seatbelts – they’re used to the old ways. And they want the old ways to stay, sometimes. No matter how much pain and suffering and often death the old ways caused, and knowing in their heart of hearts that the new way is probably better. It’s why I don’t wear a bike helmet in the city (for the record, bike helmets are like low energy light bulbs: not the best solution to the problem at all – slow the cars down, make them a bit more respectful of cyclists and 90% of all serious accidents would disappear. In most car incidents, having a helmet doesn’t save the cyclists anyway). It’s why I as fast as I always did in my teens though I’m forty-one. But my daughter doesn’t complain about the helmet, nor do I feel quite right in a car unless I have my seatbelt on.
We accept the world we are born into.
That’s why we have to change the world now for our kids to accept the new reality as they grow up. They won’t make fun of the children of gay couples if they see that their parents don’t, or don’t allow it, if they live in a society where gay parents are accepted as just as normal as anyone else’s parents. I touched on this when I was talking about how Clarkson is a relic of an old world we don’t accept anymore.
Such changes can come quickly. Spain has had gay marriage for 8 years. It has only had democracy for 40. When I was born it was still a fascist dictatorship. Ireland has been a republic for 90 years. In some aspects we’re only catching up with the rest of Europe. But we’re finally here now.
We don’t frown on unmarried mothers or make unhappy couples stay together for life, or prevent them finding happiness with someone else. We frown upon counties who still restrict their citizens’ freedoms in ways we no longer do.
When the results of this referendum are out, we will be able to hold our heads high and claim a real moral high ground.
Show the world we’re grown up. Vote Yes.

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 http://thecelticroseblog.blogspot.com/ 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.