Holding Gold Dust
The kids are in the river, scooping up fry in the shallows,
Squashing half as they let them go again as we leave.
We try to release them alive, all the time remembering
When once, we could, well, afford to kill them
In their hundreds: seeing thousands more teem between
The rocks of even city rivers and streams.
Like we did with insects: snatching ladybirds and bees,
Finding moths and crane flies in bathrooms, woodlice
By the dozen, catching starlings, titmice and sparrows,
In traps and jars and crabs in buckets on the beach.
Such abundance we scattered shells like sand;
But soon, when the water is sterile if not dry
We will shake our heads and cry, understand,
When we were young we held gold dust in our hands.
I have no photos at all to illustrate this – I could post a photo of the gravel beach where the kids were scooping the minnows, but the city council have cleared away that beach now, to free up the stepping stone bridge before the winter floods, which had deposited the huge load of stones. The fish seem happy in the shallows now.
Anyway, you’ll either be familiar with the former abundance, and thus perfectly able to picture what I’m talking about, or you won’t…. in which case, I’m really sorry, but no photo I can post would do justice to what’s gone. Well, at least at the beach, most of us are able to spot a few crabs, and perhaps catch one or two, for a while to show the kids before letting them go again…
The title comes from a song by Tori Amos, who I’ve listened to since I was of an age where there was yet abundance! I heard of her from a friend just after Little Earthquakes came out. This is one of my favourite songs of hers, and one I wish we could all be mindful of – the things we had, the things we yet have in our hands, and we should care for like fallen nestlings.
Saving the Next Generation
Wherein comes the urge to chastise
Children chasing chaffinches, ducks;
Picking wildflowers for bunches just
To steep in water and later pour it out?
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
So it’s been a while…
School is back, so that’s been interesting. Ears need the weekend to recover from the mask wearing. Infection rates steadily climbing again and probably looking at a lockdown soon enough, though school should still stay open, even as the classes empty, and we have to sub classes for our sick colleagues…
I am fine, so far. Had a antibody test as part of the at risk teacher cohort but it came back negative. My own kids are grand, haven’t missed class yet. Even extra curricular activities are on, though it’s harder to get a spot…
But they finish earlier this year and afternoons are occupied with keeping them active. We went to the allotment yesterday, where my son sought out lizards to pet and take home and keep in a tank so the cats can’t kill them, and found a stick for them to hide under. Since they seemed to be hibernating already, he determined we have to go back on the first day of summer. All of which reminded me of this poem I wrote during the summer.
For His Fifth Birthday
For his fifth birthday, my youngest son requests:
A lion, a zebra, hyenas and a herd of elephants;
A blue whale, hammerhead, a puffer fish and dolphin;
A crocodile, a kangaroo, a hedgehog and a snake;
A forest full of monkeys, jaguars and parrots;
A toucan, antelope, stick insects and bats;
Penguins, orcas, and a pod of narwhals.
He tells me this in innocence and bliss,
And I smile and nod: granting all,
Saying, I shall arrange them in place,
Each appropriate to their needs,
Where they may await the day
He makes the trek to greet them.
I sincerely hope we will have all those animals when he grows up and we can see them outside of books…
As my new novella, set in 2081, states, we need these species to feel completely human.
But in the meantime, I hope everyone is well and keeping themselves as such by staying away from all the superfluous people and wearing masks as we clasp our friends.
The last few days have been busy with schoolwork. The central government and local governments have been trying to figure out how to organise the end of the school year.
Some people want every student to pass. Some want kids to go to school in July.
The instructions the dept. of Education have given schools are so vague they’re like the bible – you can interpret it any way you want. We have to decide and defend what we decide to do. To anyone who gets their back up if things aren’t the way they want. Usual shite.
We are trying to decide now, how many percent each term gets, how much up or down a kids grade can go if they don’t hand in the work we’re doing now …
But, really, there are more important things.
They’ve only now figured out how they are going to organise letting our kids out to go for a walk, to feel the sunshine on their faces, to feel the breeze on their skin, to look up at the sky and clouds, to see the trees already in leaf and flower, to run and jump and roll in the grass. Compared to that, who really gives a toss about their grades?
This is the hamster wheel.
They want us to keep worrying about the things they tell us are important, keeping up, getting ahead, cramming our days with lessons and assignments for fear others will leave us standing and we’ll loose out in the rat race.
It also stops us from pausing and thinking, what is important in life? All the consumerism and getting bigger cars, or seeing our loved ones, going for a walk?
There were paediatrics and psychologists on the TV the other day, saying kids are fine inside for a few more weeks. That they’re adaptable.
Well, that’s as maybe. Kids in refugee camps adapt to life there, but that doesn’t mean they’re not profoundly and negatively affected.
I fail to see how in 2020 these experts haven’t read about the need for kids to experience nature, to throw sticks and stones in the river, to climb trees, to pick flowers and chase pigeons, to dig (mud or sand) and build imaginary castles. To follow, and perhaps squash, ants, to interact with the world around them.
Kids who do this are much happier than kids who only see concrete and streets and screens.
We need to rewild our kids, and keeping them cooped up has been a step backwards.
Worrying about how to decide who’s passing or failing because they missed out some weeks of school is a disservice to kids, when compared to wondering what they’ve learned about life – what they’ve learned about helping in the home, being nice to one another and their family, if they’ve read books they might not have had time or inclination for otherwise. We should wonder if children have been able to use this pause in normal life to see how unnecessary some of our normal life is, how easily we take things for granted, when they actually are the fruits of many labours, trials and sacrifices (like having a public health service and unemployment payments) in the past, of their own family, of themselves now.
It’s been a few weeks. They can make up all this over the next few years without any problem. Hell, the government effectively took weeks off the school year by changing the repeat exams from September to June in the last three years. Perhaps they can fling that great idea out the window in light of this situation?
It’s not as if the Spanish curriculum wasn’t already overloaded with too much information to memorise and not enough time for understanding.
The government has a responsibility to make sure our education system works for everyone, true. They also have a responsibility to make life – not “normal”– acceptable, worthwhile, enjoyable and beautiful for us and our kids.
That’s why we have public parks and gardens, playgrounds and ensure natural amenities like riverbanks and beaches are clean and healthy to visit.
When asked about taking kids to grass, one government spokesperson said it was better not to, because cats can get coronavirus and might have shit in the grass.
I shit you not.
Where are the feral cats going to have got coronavirus from?
Denying green spaces to kids has been necessary, but the depravation of those, in my opinion, is more detrimental than the deprivation of 6 or 8 hours a day sitting in a desk listening to me and my colleagues talking about the world, however interesting we make it.
If the government wants to ensure that every kid can get their required education while we are going through this crisis, well, ensuring every family has enough money to buy a personal computer, and have decent internet access, would have been nice prior to this.
Decent wages and proper housing policies will go a long way to making everyone in society more prepared and able to adapt to these crises, and I say that in plural because this is neither the first nor last crisis to be dealt with.
We will spend the next month teaching the bare essentials of the courses. The minimum content so that kids can continue in September with the next year’s course without holes in their knowledge. I can’t see why we don’t trim down the course for every year.
As for grades. Well, I’m finally giving quizzes where the points aren’t collected. They are just for the kids themselves, their parents, and me, to see if they understood the material, what they had problems with, and what they should try to revise. The numbers 5, 6, 7 or 8 out of 10 aren’t so important. Everyone will go on to learn more stuff next year. The way it used to be.
My own kids won’t be going to school in July. They’ll be in the village, listening to the birdsong they can’t hear now, running in a garden instead of the hallway, plucking flowers they can’t now see, rolling in grass rather than the floor, looking at the clouds horses and dogs and cats and birds rather than the TV all day – doing puzzles only because they want to, and not because I’ve turned off the telly on them, reading a book in sunlight and not inside.
It’s my son’s birthday today. He’s three. I’m nearly 45. Not necessarily a problem, but my back is not as good as it could be when he’s climbing up on my shoulders…
Yesterday the downstairs neighbour phoned at 7.45am to ask if we could get the child to not run along the hall so loudly. Not the child’s fault. This nice 1860’s house we live in, though, tends to reverberate like a 13kilo kid is Harrison Bergeron stomping through the rooms.
It reminded me of a poem I wrote a while back, though. I’ve plenty of ex-students who, though fifteen years younger than I, started having their kids at the same age as I. They didn’t get the good sense from their former teacher, but they’re showing their intelligence all the same!
Regardless of your age, I hope you enjoy. Sorry I’ve no photos of actual kids – mine aren’t allowed on the internet.
Reasons to have kids in your 20s.
They’ll say you’re stupid; it’s too early,
But don’t listen to their insistence on
Being stable, for kids are earthquakes
Set to undermine any well-laid foundations
So have them while your world is still whirling.
Forget that financial comfort buffer,
Which could crack as easily as the flat-screen
You can finally afford. It’s easy to deny
When you don’t have to give. Best let their
Screams of injustice at the sound of no
Echo in an empty house you don’t even own
As you spend decades in a shithole renter
Which becomes somebody else’s problem
Once you leave the safety deposit behind
Along with crayon on the wall and peeled paint.
Better that than they destroy the decent
House you deserve by your forties, and tears
Are indecent in front of a toddler, no matter
How he gouges the hardwood floor, or
Scratches the CDs you kept all those years
Nor tears the copy of the Hobbit you took
To three continents before “settling down.”
Children’s laughter sounds sweeter living
In a house where there’s nothing much to break.
The sleep you’ll never get with young kids
You don’t even need yet.
You’re awake all night now, so why not
Stick a bottle in a baby’s mouth while
Watching midnight marathons of Netflix films?
In your forties, eight hours is no longer a luxury;
It’s a necessity. But they’ll be out at pyjama parties,
If you’re smart, in other people’s houses.
One thing you learn when you become a parent, is
You’re never ready, nor ever could be
No matter how long you wait
So have them early and
When everything steadies, you’ll be ready for
Relaxation while you’re still young enough
To be worth going on holiday with.
After all, all the energy you yet have
Once they’re grown up and gone,
They’ll have use of just as much as you;
When the grandkids come calling
And they’re crawling and climbing, finding
Fragile items for pawing, and falling.
Sometimes you see a book come out exactly at the right time.
That’s luck, perhaps, or good planning. But then, there can be a slew of books on the same subject that are all on the mark, in fashion, ready to make that hay while the sun shines, and strike the iron while it’s hot.
I’ve never been one to jump on the bandwagon. The wagon usually goes too fast for me and I end up on my arse in the dust, or worse; the mud.
Many thought it was time to write an erotic novel after Shades of Grey went viral. I didn’t, but I wrote some anyway. They haven’t lit up any lists yet.
When my first werewolf novel came out, I was asked if I wrote it in teh wake of the Twilight trilogy. I wrote it twenty years before.
At the moment I’m writing a novel concerning the illegal wildfires in Ireland during the last two Aprils and the current government’s willingness to change the law so the farmers can do what they like when it comes to the environment. So it would be best to get the novel out as soon as possible to be current. However, it’s taking longer than I thought (it always does).
At the same time, it should not matter so much because I hope that in twenty years time the novel will still have its impact, like a novel set during the AIDS crisis of the late eighties still impacts us now just as much.
The novel is on hold this summer because I’ve got another time-sensitive project on my hands – one that can’t be put off, like putting up firewood can’t be ignored if one wants to live through the winter.
Time will pass, and though I will have other chances in the future to continue this project (and will have to) it’s at a critical stage right now and I have to take advantage of the time I have right now to apply to it – something that’s a luxury which thousands of others might envy me of.
The project is a little human. A mini-me, as it were; my six-month old son.
Books, Booze and a little Boy – Be warned: the three don’t necessarily mix very well…
I’ve got him – and his older sister; at her own critical stage of development – for the summer. He’s a time-intensive creature. He will be crawling soon and I’ve already accepted the fact that he’ll do his best to wreck my house.
But it is time well invested. I’m sure he’s a quick study – already clapping hands and holding out his dodie to me, then laughing as he takes it back.
Mainly, though, the means, the brainpower to think of other projects is being sucked away. He barely gives me time to clean the house while he sleeps and prepare his purees and fruit.
Many other parents know what I’m experiencing – it’s probably light compared to some nightmares, but for a writer, at least this one, it’s easy to start projects in spare moments but hard to tie a story all together without long stretches of quiet concentration.
So I’ll not bother. I’ll have a rest – as far as that goes – a holiday. I’ll go back to my books – the long list of novel spines staring at me from my bookshelves – and relax my brain. And I’ll read aloud, to let my son listen to the rhythm of one of his native tongues.
Here are a few poems, as promised a few days ago. The first is one I wrote for halloween this year and the others are some Haikus from August and September.
(added a couple of visuals for the first poem – the kids are blurred out: one on the right is not my kid, so she’s more erased…)
Halloween didn’t intrude
Past the witches with their brooms
Whirling toys around the rooms.
And we arose somewhat sober at dawn.
Cycling through city –
The cars, once sold:
A promise of freedom.
The buzzard on the post
Await not a death,
But the humans to disperse.